Archive for the ‘Biology’ Category
by Egle Marija Ramanauskaite
Earlier this year, we introduced you to WeCureALZ – a groundbreaking new project that for the first time is set to use the power of citizen science to conduct Alzheimer’s research. Enabled by the support of the BrightFocus Foundation, the team is already preparing for the alpha testing of our first online activity – a game that will allow everyone to search for stalled capillaries in the brains of Alzheimer’s-affected mice.
With a beta launch planned later this year, we thought it was about time we tell you the key part of the story – the science behind WeCureALZ, and what is it that you – citizen scientists – will be helping researchers do! Read the rest of this entry »
Follow a tree through its journey into spring! Citizen scientists can record budbursting, leafing and flowering with Track a Tree as seasons shift in the United Kingdom.
by Nina Friedman
As Citizen Science projects proliferate, so do the curious communities they create. Relationships begin between excited, everyday people as they explore their surroundings for the sake of science. But there is one United Kingdom based project that inspires the inception of a particularly odd relationship…
Track a Tree asks volunteers to visit their local woodlands, select a tree, and record seasonal events as they take place in the immediate ecosystem of the tree. Through recurring visits and focused observation volunteers become familiarized with the tree’s particularities. Maybe it’s the final Sycamore in the area to leaf. You, a volunteer, root for it to catch up with its peers, literally the parent of a late bloomer. You invest yourself in seasonal transitions, gaining insight into the life of the tree, surrounding flowers, and sometimes surrounding animals.
You become a scientist of phenology, the study of the seasonal-ecosystem interaction. Phenology observes timing variations seasonal events, and the resulting affect on plant and animal life. Recent rapid shifts in the earth’s climate make phenology evermore interesting and important. Tree’s that thrive in an April-June springtime may lose health if temperatures unexpectedly rise in March, triggering early blooming. When the Forestry Commission has access to ecological data, they can make informed decisions when harvesting and planting trees. When you have access to ecological data, you can learn about the nature that surrounds you. You can also create and play with interactive infographics.
Christine Tansey, the founder of Track a Tree, relayed the project’s impressive growth. “We expected a smaller, more dedicated group of participants because it requires a bit more commitment than other citizen science projects,” she says. Most ecological projects do not require multiple visits to the same location. Volunteers prove to be excited about the committing task. Since its launch in 2014, submissions include 2,000 observations spanning over 200 woodlands. Participants include school age students, families and individuals. Couples are also among the ranks. Tree tracking happens to be a great bonding activity, with the benefit of being lower commitment and lower cost than cat adoption and child rearing.
Steve Hallam (part-time tree tracker and full-time father) finds free moments to volunteer for several conservation projects in the UK. When life’s unexpected challenges arise, Steve finds routine and peace in data collection. “Gathering data on my trees forces me to stay quietly in one place for a few minutes- and it’s amazing what wildlife can make itself visible whilst this occurs,” he says. Local Nuthatches regularly make appearances while he scribbles the status of his Silver Birch.
One citizen scientist, a self-proclaimed “wayward botanist”, shares the tree tracking experience through sound. With every outing comes an audio upload.
Christine loves the unique way each volunteer approaches his or her experience. “They’re all following the outline of the project, but they’re able to individualize it and explore their own interests at the same time”. Christine aims to “give all [volunteers] the chance to hone their observation skills”. This goal is mutually beneficial. Years into her ecology research, she still notices new aspects of nature every time she goes into the field, attributing this to the volunteers fresh perspectives.
Ultimately, Track a Tree would like not only to collect data, but to educate citizen scientists. If UK woodlands are inaccessible to you visit the Track a Tree resource page to learn about tree identification. Or visit SciStarter’s Project Finder and use the “location” function to explore ecology underneath your local canopies!
Who needs chocolate, cards, roses, or a significant other, when you can celebrate Valentine’s Day with citizen science?
Below you’ll find five projects we love. Visit SciStarter to find 1000 more.
PS: If you have 30 seconds, consider taking this quick poll. We’re curious to learn more about the formal education level of the citizen science community.
The SciStarter Team
The Great Backyard Bird Count
This annual bird count runs from February 12th to 16th this year, and it’s open to anyone in the world. Simply pick a location (such as your backyard!) and count the birds that you see for at least 15 minutes; by participating and reporting your data you’ll contribute to our understanding of birds across the globe. Get started!
Beats Per Life
Is there a correlation between heart rate and lifespan? Help researchers find out by looking through published research results to compare the resting heart rates of all types of animals. Get started!
When it snows in your area, stick a ruler in the snow and tweet your location along with the snow depth. Your data will be added to a real-time worldwide map of snow depth which will help scientists calibrate the accuracy of satellite instruments. Get started!
Bonus! The SciStarter team will join Discover Magazine, Astronomy Magazine and the Science Cheerleaders at the AAAS Family Science Days in Washington, DC February 13th and 14th. This free event is open to the public! We’ll give away rulers with Snow Tweets instructions to help you get started.
Want to help fight heart disease? By completing a simple online survey about your health and behavior, you can contribute to our understanding of heart health. Get started!
Create a diary for your child and harness crowd wisdom to predict and improve her/his development. This project is part of an international scientific effort to understand the way children grow.
The gamification of data analysis in cancer increases citizen contribution and reduces research time
Individuals diagnosed with muscle-invasive bladder cancer face a difficult treatment decision – intensive radiotherapy or complete surgical removal of their bladder. Each option has benefits and draw backs, and there are limited data available to patients and physicians to help predict which treatment might provide the best outcome.
Dr. Anne Kiltie, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at Oxford University and Clinical Group Leader at Cancer Research UK (CRUK) is trying to improve that decision making process. She is investigating whether proteins involved in DNA damage signaling and repair might serve as biological indicators, or ‘biomarkers’, predictive of a patient’s response to treatment.
In 2010 her team published data showing that higher levels of the DNA repair protein MRE11 correlated with better survival rates in bladder cancer patients who had undergone radiotherapy. This was a critical finding suggesting that MRE11 could be a treatment predictive biomarker. Unfortunately the finding relied on time consuming pathology analysis. Bladder tumor samples are sliced, labeled for each protein of interest and photographed. While the staining and imaging of these slices can be automated, each image must be manually quantified for the level of protein present. Computer algorithms are not yet as reliable as the human eye. So to study just one protein, Kiltie’s team must individually score hundreds of images, a major time sink.
Of course if there was a way to get more people involved, the research could proceed much faster.
And this is the basis of Reverse the Odds, a mobile app game in which citizens help with real data analysis. The game was the result of CRUK’s partnership with British television broadcaster Channel 4 and developed in collaboration with Chunk, Maverick Television, and Zooniverse.
“Developing this game was a new experience for both our researchers and the game developers,” says Rupesh Robinson-Vyas, Science Engagement and Operations Officer at CRUK. The development team had some key concerns. Could a game that dealt with a serious topic like cancer still be approachable and fun? And could the data analysis be gamified without compromising the quality of analysis?
Yes and yes.
The final product is a puzzle game in which players help whimsical creatures, ‘Odds’ reclaim their world. Rather than hide the science, the game developers put the science front and center. To level up, players visit the ‘lab’ where they learn to quantify protein expression in real bladder tumor samples. All the samples are from patients who have already undergone treatment. Players are not diagnosing patients.
Each image is reviewed by multiple players, with each player’s response being compared to other players’ responses. In this way discrepancies in analysis are weeded out. After the images are quantified, the data are sent back to Kiltie’s team who compare the level of protein expression to the patient’s known outcome.
Not only has the game cut down on data processing time, Kiltie’s team can concurrently evaluate the expression level of multiple proteins. This means the relationships between proteins, how they might work together to affect treatment outcome can also be studied.
As for the seriousness of the subject matter, rather than a deterrent, the science and the potential to make a significant contribution to cancer research is a strong motivator for game play.
“It was an unexpected outcome. The game allowed us to engage a younger age group, individuals who might not be able to contribute financially, could instead contribute their time,” says Robinson-Vyas. The game has been a huge success, translated into five languages, with an international reach of 150 countries.
CRUK is testing new methods of training and presenting pathology data to users. “Rather than asking our users just one question, the new interactive will teach us how to ask questions and identify what kind of data our users can help us collect,” says Robinson-Vyas. Results with citizen scientists matching pathologist’s accuracy in data analysis are encouraging; CRUK is writing a paper on these methods and plans to test further iterations.
As for Reverse the Odds, Kiltie’s team hopes to complete data collection this spring. Her team intends to make the results as well as background on game development openly available.
Visit the project page to learn more about Reverse the Odds and join the effort help Kiltie’s team analyze the final 500,000 slides by March.
Learn about CRUK’s other project Play to Cure: Genes in Space