Culture collections have the crucial role of providing the authenticated biological material upon which high quality research is based. Importantly, they serve as repositories for strains as part of patent deposits, providers of safe and confidential services to store key organisms for research and industry, and sources of organisms cited in scientific papers that can be used in the confirmation of results and for further study. The demands upon culture collections change as new technologies and uses of organisms are discovered. Many are becoming Biological Resource Centres, as defined by the OECD Biological Resource Centre (BRC) Initiative, in that they operate according to international quality criteria, carry out essential research, enhance the value and applications of strains and provide a vital information resource. In a changing international scientific environment, many collections are under threat of extinction because of inadequate funding, changing government support strategies and the cost of new technologies. We are also suffering a decline in the number of biosystematists, who are needed to form a sound base for molecular technologies and to aid in identifying, and characterizing microbial diversity. In this environment, collections must work together to make the best use of new technologies and to contribute to the description of the 1.4 million fungi yet to be discovered. At the current rate, this will take 700 years. New technologies and novel ways of funding this task must be engaged and, above all, scientists must collaborate. Common policies are necessary to address the regulatory demands on collections, to control access to dangerous organisms, and, in particular, to enforce the Convention on Biological Diversity. Countries that hold the majority of biodiversity require support in building the facilities required to explore their hidden resource. The World Federation for Culture Collections (WFCC) and, in Europe, the European Culture Collection Organisation (ECCO) have a key role to play. The world must benefit from its microbial diversity, which is crucial to solving increasing problems in food provision, public health and poverty alleviation.