Archive for the ‘Health’ Category
Thanks to the Independence National Historical Park for giving me access to the Liberty Bell. I had a lot of fun collecting microbes from this national treasure in my hometown!
Happy to announce that the microbes from the Liberty Bell have been selected to fly on the International Space Station where their growth rates will be analyzed and compared to their counterparts back at the UC Davis lab! We will be announcing each selected microbe over the course of the next two weeks, with Philly first.
This research is part of Project MERCCURI, a citizen science project from UC Davis, Science Cheerleader and SciStarter, to examine the diversity of microbes on Earth and on the International Space Station.
Check out this particular microbe’s very own trading card! Here’s an excerpt:
Where we found it: On the Liberty Bell (Philadelphia, PA)
Why it’s awesome: This is an important industrial organism, used for the production of penicillin, vitamins, various drugs, and numerous enzymes
Fun fact: The species name of this microbe means “big beast” and it is among the largest bacteria ever discovered
In addition to the microbes from the Liberty Bell, six other microbes from Philadelphia were selected by UC Davis researchers to blast into space for research at the International Space Station. Here are links to images and more information about the microbes collected from the following sites in Philadelphia and selected to fly on the International Space Station:
Chemical Heritage Foundation
The Franklin Institute
The Academy of Natural Sciences (microbes collected by St. Peter’s School students)
St. Joseph’s Preparatory School
A total of 48 samples were selected from across the country.
Here’s more information about this project:
Davis, CA. (Jan. 30, 2014) — Microbes collected from Philadelphia landmarks will soon blast into orbit for research and a microgravity growth competition on the International Space Station (ISS). This citizen science project, known as Project MERCCURI, investigates how microbes from different places on Earth compare to each other and to those found on the International Space Station.
Led by the Science Cheerleaders (current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders pursuing science and technology careers), thousands of people across the United States participated in the project. Several Pop Warner cheer teams swabbed practice fields, shoes, and cell phones for microbes. Other people collected microbial samples at NFL, NBA, and MLB stadiums; from schools; from landmarks like the Liberty Bell, Sue the T-Rex, the statue of Ben Franklin in Philadelphia, and the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum; and during events including Yuri’s Nights, a series of gatherings across the country to commemorate the first human in space.
The microbes they gathered were examined by the “microbiology team” in the laboratory of Dr. Jonathan Eisen at the University of California at Davis. The team selected 48 microbes (SEVEN of which are from Philadelphia!), which, with approval from NASA, are to ride the SpaceX Falcon 9 to the Space Station for further research. The rocket is scheduled to launch from the Kennedy Space Center in early March.
The public will be able to follow Project MERCCURI as it continues over the next several months via the web site SpaceMicrobes.org. The site will include updates from the research on the Space Station including results of the “microbial playoffs” growth competition. The site also features free interactive visualization tools, lesson plans for teachers, and even trading cards that include photos and the details of each microbe selected for the project, as well as their importance.
In addition to the research in space, thousands of additional samples collected by the public are being analyzed further at UC Davis and by the lab of Dr. Jack Gilbert at Argonne National Laboratory. The microbes found in these samples are being assayed using DNA sequencing technology, and the resulting data will be made available to the public and also integrated with results of the Earth Microbiome Project. Scientists hope to gain insights into what is living at the ISS, how microbes vary between different places on Earth and in space, and to compare growth of microbes on Earth and in microgravity. Philadelphia 76ers fans will have the opportunity to participate in this part of the research during Science at the Sixers night on 2/18 when the 76ers host the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We are in the midst of a revolution in our ability to study the hidden world of microbes found throughout the planet,” said Jonathan Eisen, Professor at UC Davis and leader of the microBEnet (microbiology of the built environment network) team doing the microbiology side of Project MERCCURI. “One area of growing interest is in studying the microbes living right around us – in our buildings – on our phones – and elsewhere. The Science Cheerleader group has allowed us to get thousands of people to not only think more about the microbes among us, but to also participate in a microbial diversity research project. And those people have helped us get more samples than we have been able to obtain previously.”
“A lot of people ask us *why* we’re sending microbes into space,” said Dr. David Coil, a microbiologist at UC Davis. “Understanding how microbes behave in microgravity is critically important for planning long-term manned spaceflight but also has the possibility of giving us new insight into how these microbes behave in built environments on Earth.”
“This initiative is not just about significant research,” said Darlene Cavalier, a former 76ers cheerleader and Founder of Science Cheerleader and SciStarter, both based in Philadelphia. “It’s about engaging the public in that research. Microbes that were collected at Georgia Tech are taking a ride on the International Space Station. They’re the subject of research by microbiologists and astronauts. We hope that inspires youngsters as well as adults to become more aware of and involved in science.”
Project MERCCURI is coordinated by Science Cheerleader, SciStarter.com, and UC Davis, in conjunction with the Argonne National Laboratory. The Project is made possible by Space Florida, NanoRacks, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Note to editors: To arrange interviews with the research team at UC Davis, members of the Science Cheerleader or SciStarter teams, or with local groups that participated in collecting the microbes, please email Claire LaBeaux, email@example.com.
Image: Courtey of Darlene Cavalier
This post originally appeared on the Science Cheerleader blog.
Make sure you’re on Santa’s “nice list” this year. Lend your hands, hearts and brains to science during these 12 days leading up to Christmas!
On the 1st day of Christmas, the Alliance for Saving Threatened Forests gave to me:
A chance to monitor the invasive insects that attack both hemlocks and Fraser firs (the most popular Christmas Tree in North America).
On the 2nd day of Christmas, Audubon gave to me:
Two turtle doves that I spotted during the Christmas Bird Count, which takes place December 14 through January 5 each year! The count is the world’s longest running citizen science project.
On the 3rd day of Christmas, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center gave to me:
Three Chinese mitten hens (female crabs) on the east coast of the United States. Mitten Crab Watch needs our help to determine the current distribution status of the mitten crab in the region.
On the 4th day of Christmas, Audubon gave to me:
Four or more calling birds that I “adopted” for the holidays. Through December 31st, anyone can adopt a bird for someone special, and Audubon will send them a personalized holiday card showcasing the adoption and an Audubon gift membership.
On the 5th day of Christmas, geographers at Wilfrid Laurier University gave to me:
Five frozen skating rinks! This winter, you can track climate change through backyard skating rinks by taking part in Rink Watch. Just put in the location of your backyard rink on a map and record days you can skate.
On the 6th of Christmas, Seattle Audubon Society gave to me:
A chance to help seabird researchers create a snapshot of geese density on more than three square miles of near-shore saltwater habitat.
On the 7th day of Christmas, the Swan Society of the University of Melbourne gave to me:
The MySwan project to report sightings of tagged black swans around the world. After you submit your sighting, you’ll get an instant report about the swan, with interesting information about its history and recent movements.
On the 8th day of Christmas, Zooniverse gave to me:
The Milky Way Project, a chance to help scientists study our galaxy, as well as the Milky Way advent calendar and even Milky Way tree ornaments!
On the 9th day of Christmas, the European Space Agency gave to me:
Citizen scientists doing our favorite dance: the robot! By flying a Parrot AR drone in virtual space, you can help create new robotic capabilities for space probes and contribute to future space exploration.
On the 10th day of Christmas, Computer Science Education Week gave to me:
Ten million students leaping into the world of computer programming. During the week of Dec. 9-15, students will take part in the Hour of Code. But it doesn’t stop there – tutorials are available all year round!
On the 11th day of Christmas, the University of Washington gave to me:
SingAboutScience, a searchable database where you can find content-rich songs on specific scientific and mathematical topics. These singers sure have some pipes!
On the 12th day of Christmas, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation gave to me:
The Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey to help hunters survey the population of ruffed grouse during breeding season.
If you’re fortunate to experience a white Christmas, consider sending your snow depth measurements to cryosphere researchers at the University of Waterloo’s Snow Tweets project. They want to use your real-time measurements to help calibrate the accuracy of satellite instruments currently measuring snow precipitation.
Happy holidays from the SciStarter team!
Winter is here! Check out more winter weather themed citizen science projects at Scistarter.
Here in the northern hemisphere, by this time of year, the signs of winter are nearly fully developed. Pea coats to defend us from the cold, denuded forests, grasses in gowns of morning white, and, of course, symptoms of the flu (otherwise known as influenza) around our daily interactions. Be it a cough, a runny nose, or untimely sweats, being surrounded by these unpleasant yet familiar symptoms make it seem like the dreaded flu is around every corner.
As it happens, where the flu is and who has it makes a big difference in how we understand the spread of influenza and who might be vulnerable or at risk. FluSurvey UK is one of a few citizen science projects in the world that tracks the movement and abundance of influenza-like illnesses, which is any kind of sickness that looks like the flu but can’t be confirmed without lab work asserting the presence of the virus. FluSurvey participants, however, also add background information from occupation, commute patterns, and socioeconomic status to dietary habits, average contact with old and young people, and whether or not they’ve been vaccinated, painting a vivid picture of the population.
This helps Dr. Alma Adler, who heads FluSurvey and a fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine “uniquely… get information on risk factors for influenza-like illnesses.” The data provided by FluSurvey participants showed, for instance, that train ride actually does not increase your risk of contracting flu-like illnesses since participants who used public transportation actually reported less flu symptoms than those who used private transportation. This was a bit of a surprising find, since influenza tends to be communicated through droplets expelled into the air by infected people, and then sucked in somehow by healthy people. On the other hand, we all also know that children, cute as they can be, are excellent disease vectors as well. FluSurvey showed that people who come into regular contact with children were at a higher risk for influenza-like illnesses and that flu cases rise more rapidly when schools are open than when they are closed. This is good news, considering the kids will soon be on winter break, and people can venture into a cleaner world.
In the past, this kind of analysis would have been impossible. Flu surveillance once had to rely on reports from general medical practitioners and hospitals, which left epidemiologists fumbling for an accurate cross-section of the population. The trouble being that only a subsection of sick people will go to the doctor. Unlike FluSurvey, Dr. Adler says, “Doctors’ reports are not linked to any kind of background information.” And while the data from FluSurvey is only a proxy for the actual presence of influenza, it seems to be robust. Dr. Adler says they “compare [FluSurvey’s] influenza-like-illness peaks to when we know there are peaks in laboratory confirmed flu cases. Generally, our data match up fairly well,” showing that people are reporting flu in the survey when there is honest-to-god flu flying around.
While FluSurvey UK is only available to our British friends, it’s a part of the European Influenzanet which has surveys in ten different countries. For those of us in the U.S.A., we have to rely on a similar health map called Flu Near You, which asks people to report flu-like symptoms and monitors influenza but doesn’t collect any other data. This might change in the future, as crowd-sourcing data collection and citizen science is becoming more and more popular in epidemiology. Citizen science could, in theory, provide a study population limited only by the number of people with a computer and access to internet for the same or even a smaller cost.
Data from FluSurvey has recently informed a new UK immunization scheme that targets vaccinations at children (since they’re a major risk factor). It has also partnered with the British Science Association to get more children involved with the project. The CDC has similar flu monitoring systems available.
If you’re in the UK or elsewhere in Europe, you can join FluSurvey UK or find your country’s FluSurvey at Influenzanet. If you’re in the States, Flu Near You is always happy to hear about your illness too. And if you haven’t yet, remember to get a flu vaccination if you can since, as Dr. Adler says, “That is the only real risk factor you can do something about.”
Image: DOD, FluNearYou.org
Angus R. Chen is a research assistant at Princeton University, where he does geochronology research using uranium and lead isotopes from zircon crystals. Previously, he was a research intern at the Harvard Forest, studying the impacts of climate change on soil. He recently graduated from Oberlin College with a double major in environmental science and creative writing. When he’s not in the lab admiring rocks and then pulverizing them, he writes poetry, fiction, science articles, and makes cool videos.
It’s likely you never expected to aid cutting edge cancer research by playing computer games, but the makers of NanoDoc are asking citizen scientists to do just that. By designing nanoparticles – tiny clusters that are made up of only tens to thousands of atoms – and running simulations of how they interact in the body, players can help expert bioengineers overcome challenges in cancer treatment.
Nanoparticles are promising options for cancer treatment because they can be altered in many ways to target cancer tumors without harming healthy tissue. For example, nanoparticles can be designed to interact only with cancer cells or engineered to deliver medicine to affected areas of the body. The problem bioengineers face is that there are too many combinations of nanoparticle alterations to physically test how each one will behave in the body. To address this, Prof. Bhatia’s lab at MIT developed NanoDoc as a way to crowdsource simulated solutions.
The lead developer of NanoDoc, Dr. Sabine Hauert, states that the program “lets the crowd do the legwork” of testing the different nanoparticle solutions through a fun and educational simulation game. Participants start by playing through various training scenarios, working on challenges that have been previously solved by experts. At each level, the players learn a new skill, which allows them to alter the simulated nanoparticles in new ways. Hauert describes, “Its really a cool stepwise process. You get little diplomas at every step.”
Following the training, players are ready to address NanoDoc challenges, which are unsolved problems proposed by bioengineers. Hauert notes that the advantage of the going through the training first is that it prepares players to “go ahead and start working on the problem right away without an engineer,” enabling individual participants to make real contributions. The participants’ solutions are evaluated based on their scores in the game, and the highest scores are carefully evaluated for their potential to test with physical systems. More of these challenges will be available in the coming weeks with the release of the new version of NanoDoc, which will allow for any user to submit new challenges.
So start your NanoDoc training today and join in the challenge! Your high score could lead to tomorrow’s cure.
Emily Lewis is a PhD candidate in chemistry at Tufts University, where she analyzes industrially important catalysts on the nanoscale. She received her BS and MS degrees from Northeastern University, and her thesis work examined fuel cell catalysts under real operating conditions. She loves learning about energy and the environment, exploring science communication, and investigating the intersection of these topics with the policy world. When she’s not writing or in the lab, you’ll probably spot Emily at the summit of one of the White Mountains in NH. Follow her: @lewisbase, emilyannelewis.com.
Tasmania, the island state of Australia, is known for its tall trees, its wild mountains, its challenging caves, but most of all for its Tasmanian Devils. While the Warner Brothers cartoon character may be responsible for this infamy, the devils themselves are fascinating creatures. They are also endangered by a mysterious disease and are the subject of a unique citizen science project.
The Save The Tasmanian Devil Program’s Roadkill Project is seeking any bits of information they can on the spread of a transmissible cancer that is decimating this project. And, as any Tasmanian road traveller knows, grimly, the road network is where wildlife meets citizen.
Tasmanian devils are the largest remaining marsupial carnivores on Earth. Known to the Tasmanian aboriginals as “purinina” and to zoologists as Sarcophilus harrisii, they are pouched marsupials like kangaroos and koalas. Unlike them, it is a carnivore, or rather, a scavenger. In 1936, the last thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, died in captivity; it had been the previous largest remaining carnivorous marsupial. Over the last hundred thousand years, coinciding with the arrival of humans to Australia, many other animals have gone extinct, including browsing marsupials the size of a bison (Diprotodon) and meat eaters the size of tigers (Thylacoleo). The devils, and these other, extinct, animals used to live all over Australia- but Tasmania is the last habitat for the devil.
Since 1996, a curious disease has been ravaging them in a horrific way. A contagious cancer has been killing devils, apparently transmitted during the fights that they engage in regularly. It grows into hideous tumours, eventually killing the animals. There is no known cure.
It’s hard to explain the emotional impact of this disease on Tasmanians. There is a great sadness at the loss of the Tasmanian Tiger, which was hunted to death in modern times, and to have the devil go extinct, perhaps in our lifetimes, is a cruel blow. So, admirably, the Australian and Tasmanian governments have committed substantial resources to medical and wildlife research.
Like many others, I saw my first devil as roadkill. Tasmania’s roads are winding and surrounded by forest. Marsupials aren’t too alert and are often hit by cars. It’s a grim reality, but also evidence that there is a large amount of wildlife alive in Tasmania. Most hits are with wallabies (small kangaroos) or possums, but every so often, a devil gets hit.
The scientists at the Save The Devil Program have put out a call to citizen scientists to help track the progress of the disease, and the state of the devil population by reporting road kill sightings of Tassie Devils. There are thousands of printed forms asking for information on the exact location, and a dedicated telephone number for text messages and photo inputs. These forms are easy to keep in the car, and help travellers and residents to play a part in putting devil sightings on the map. There are hundreds of roadkill devils reported each year, and while their loss is tragic, at least citizen scientists are monitoring the incidence of the disease.
Next time, we’ll hear from the organisers at the Tassie Devil program and hear about their progress and data. Drive carefully, wherever you are!
Photos: Save the Tasmanian Devil
YD Bar-Ness is a conservation ecologist based in the far corner of Australia, on the island of Tasmania. As a conservationist, he seeks to use geography and photography to create environmental education materials, and as a scientist, he specialises in climbing trees to explore the canopy biodiversity. He has previously been based in Delhi, Seattle, Perth, San Francisco, and Bangalore. He reckons the wilderness of Tasmania is the perfect venue for a Citizen Science Field Institute, and publishes Tasmanian Geographic, a free online documentary magazine at http://www.