Citizen Science Genetics Projects
Here are six citizen science projects in need of your help to explore life all around us.
If you are interested in additional genetics themed citizen science, be sure to visit our storify of the January #CitSciChat which focused on citizen science and genetics!
The SciStarter Team
Genetics and Smell Chemistry
Part of the way we smell things is controlled by our genes. Families are needed to smell a provided sample and record how their perceptions of the smell differ. The results will inform understanding of the genetics of smell.
Genetics of Taste
Have a sweet tooth? It could be genetic. This project, based at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, explores the factors that influence taste.
If you like both online games and trees, this might be the project for you! You can play a game using real genetic data to help protect ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) from disease.
The cabbage white (Pieris rapae) is one of the most common butterflies worldwide. Help this project collect genetic data on cabbage whites to investigate how the species has successfully spread and adapted to many different environments.
The Genographic Project
National Geographic is collecting and analyzing samples of DNA to learn how humanity spread across the earth. With a simple cheek swab, you can learn about your personal genetic history and contribute to a larger body of knowledge
Personal Genome Project
Harvard’s Personal Genome Project studies how genetics and the environment influence traits, while at the same time creating a publically accessible database for genetic and health information.
SciStarter adds first Canadian organization as a citizen science partner
The David Suzuki Foundation expands citizen science projects to include Canadians
Philadelphia, PA / Vancouver, B.C. (January 28, 2016) — The David Suzuki Foundation is teaming up with SciStarter to encourage science researchers in Canada to engage more citizen science partners through SciStarter’s North America-wide database and international reach.
“Global collaboration on scientific research on the environment is crucial,” said Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter and professor of practice at Arizona State University. “We’re thrilled to see growing involvement from the international scientific community, particularly from the David Suzuki Foundation, which works to conserve the environment and find solutions to some of Canada’s most pressing environmental concerns.” Read More
by Egle Marija Ramanauskaite
Maybe you’re finding it hard to stick to that New Year’s resolution of making it to the gym every week. How about trying something easier instead? Like changing the world for example, by helping cure Alzheimer’s – one of the most devastating diseases that we face today. How, you ask? Read on to find out.
A “historic” increase of $350 million in U.S. federal funding for Alzheimer’s research was signed into law last month to help battle this aggressive form of dementia. But while we wait for much anticipated breakthroughs to happen, everyday citizens like us can do our bit to further progress.
In a recent article titled “The Power of Crowds,” published in the journal Science, Dr. Pietro Michelucci of the Human Computation Institute and Prof. Janis Dickinson of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, discuss how some of the world’s most ‘wicked’ problems could be solved by complex human-computer ecosystems. “We’ve been gathering millions of people online for a while”, says Dr. Michelucci, “Now we are empowering those millions to tackle relevant problems in ways that were not previously possible.”
Citizen scientists have already proven they’re up to the task – mapping neurons to reverse-engineer the human brain, discovering impossibly tiny pieces of stardust, or deciphering an HIV-related protein structure that eluded professional researchers for 15 years. So why not take up Alzheimer’s disease (AD) too?
Michelucci has teamed up with collaborators at Cornell University, Princeton University, University of California Berkeley, and WiredDifferently to develop WeCureALZ – a citizen science project aimed at making breakthroughs in the search for an Alzheimer’s treatment.
Groundbreaking technologies, not enough human eyes
Advanced imaging techniques have recently enabled WeCureALZ collaborators at Cornell University to see what happens in blood vessels of a live mouse brain. Quite by accident, an undergraduate who was studying the images happened to visually notice static dark areas in some of the tiny blood vessels, called “capillaries,” indicating that blood flow was apparently stalled.
In a view of capillaries visualized for three seconds, stalled ones have dark spots that don’t change from one frame to the next, whereas normal blood flow (ellipse) shows up as changing patterns of black and white stripes, which represent the flowing red blood cells.
Such capillary “plugs” could cost the brain up to 30% of its total blood flow. That is equivalent to the dizziness you get while standing up too suddenly. Imagine the brain “feeling” like that all the time!
Even more importantly, there is preliminary evidence to suggest that this reduced blood flow is caused by the presence of the amyloid plaques that are commonly associated with Alzheimer’s. “Improving circulation could restore natural amyloid clearance,” says Prof. Chris Schaffer, a Cornell University biomedical researcher and WeCureALZ collaborator, “This could delay Alzheimer’s progression long enough to not matter in our lifetimes.” But to restore brain blood flow we need to understand what causes the blood stalls in the first place. Researchers think they have an idea, but they need to make sure they are on the right track.
Capillary images for a thousand blood vessels from one mouse can be generated in just an hour. But it takes at least thirty hours for a lab technician to analyze all those data. Repeating that analysis for a series of experiments, each involving hundreds of data sets, could take decades.
This is where you come in.
“As humans, we are uniquely suited for certain tasks, such as visual pattern recognition or creative thinking, which today is unmatched by any machine,” says Dr. Michelucci. “On the other hand, computers help us combine those skills into highly collaborative systems, where many people can work together and tackle increasingly hard problems.”
Combining the best elements of EyeWire and Stardust@home, two successful citizen science projects, WeCureALZ will enable volunteers to analyze images in the same way that professional researchers do, creating a 3D map of brain vessels and pin-pointing capillary plugs. With thousands of potential citizen scientists out there, decades of research could be completed in just a few years!
The real power is in ‘the crowd’
Perhaps the most empowering aspect of WeCureALZ is the fact that everyone – including caregivers and early stage AD patients themselves, can help accelerate research that could make a difference in their own lives.
If that weren’t enough, the approach that WeCureALZ volunteers will perfect in the next year or so could be used to crowdsource additional biomedical research, including other forms of dementia.
“This is just the beginning of what the crowd can do, especially at the dawn of new crowdsourcing technologies” says Dr.Michelucci.
In the case of WeCureALZ, the crowd could help end a disease that affects millions, and speed up the research by orders of magnitude.
If you are keen to make a difference, follow the pre-registration link at wecurealz.com. Be sure to stay tuned for further news and developments!
Egle Marija Ramanauskaite is a content manager at the Human Computation Institute, a collaborator on the WeCureALZ project.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is Monday, January 18, and the Corporation for National and Community Service is leading an effort to help millions of Americans volunteer to honor Dr. King’s legacy through service.
Now, anyone who wants to volunteer to help advance scientific research can easily find hundreds of opportunities to do so on AllForGood.org and Serve.gov where SciStarter’s searchable database of citizen science projects can be found. Simple search for “citizen science” or “STEM” projects in the “Find a Volunteer Opportunity”. All For Good, a service of Points of Light, generated more than 64 million searches for volunteer projects last year.
A citizen science project can involve one person or millions of people collaborating toward a common goal. SciStarter aggregates more than 1,100 citizen science projects on a single website in order to connect scientists and community leaders with anyone who wants to contribute to valuable science.
“SciStarter is thrilled to share its extensive database of citizen science projects with All For Good’s active community of millions of people eager to find ways to make the world a better place,” said Darlene Cavalier, Director of SciStarter. “Why not change the world through service to science?”
“SciStarter will help us connect more people to projects that will have a real impact on a range of diverse research areas, including ecology, environment, health, astronomy, ornithology and more,” said Art Ordoqui, Senior Director, Product Development, Points of Light. “All For Good also shares projects with the Serve.gov website for volunteer opportunities, so federal employees will now be able to find and join SciStarter’s citizen science projects just in time for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when everyone is encouraged to participate in a Day of Service.”
All For Good is joined by several other partners that feature projects from SciStarter’s database, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Discover Magazine, Astronomy Magazine, PBS Kids, and more.
Participation Details for Project Owners and Interested Citizen Scientists It’s easy for researchers from around the world to add their projects to SciStarter’s growing Project Finder, tapping into the network of portal partners and project participants at All For Good and others, by clicking “add a project” from SciStarter’s homepage [www.SciStarter.org].
SciStarter aims to enable people to contribute to science through informal recreational activities and formal research efforts. The website creates a shared space where scientists can connect with people interested in working on or learning about joint research projects.
About All For Good
All for Good – a service of Points of Light – is one of the world’s largest free, online marketplaces matching volunteers with opportunities to serve. Users of All for Good generated nearly 64 million project searches in the past year for 300,000 volunteer projects. ###
As we jump into a promising new year, we’d like to give a tip of the cap to all the amazing contributors who’ve made the Citizen Science Salon on Discover Magazine one of the best places to learn about and engage in citizen science. Here are the 10 most popular articles that we published on this blog in 2015, just in time to add them to your weekend reading list.
The SciStarter Team
Citizen scientists help make discoveries about how genetics may shape the way we taste food.
Turkey or ham? Stuffing or mashed potatoes? Pumpkin or apple pie?
As I prepared for Thanksgiving this year, I reflected on all the culinary choices this feasting day offers and wondered why people who share a culture, a community, or a family have such diverse preferences when it comes to their favorite holiday foods.
Maybe it’s genetics?
Researchers at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science are exploring this question through their Genetics of Taste Lab, a permanent “science on the floor” health exhibit that brings together citizen science and crowdsourcing to understand our relationship with food. Read More
Editor’s Note: myObservatory is a SciStarter advertiser but had no editorial input or control over this blog post.
When I attended the Citizen Science Association’s first national conference in San Jose earlier this year, I noticed a recurring theme: while there has been an explosion in the collection of data by volunteers across the globe, researchers are still challenged to find the time and resources to organize, analyze, understand, and share all that data.
Helping people use technology to make their data meaningful is the idea behind myObservatory, an information management system platform that allows users to collect, check, analyze, and share data.
The small company was founded in 2007 by Yoram Rubin, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley who has a passion for conserving natural resources. Read More