Here at microBEnet we are big fans of citizen science… focusing not surprisingly on citizen microbiology projects. We’ve hosted several workshops and conference sessions on the topic as well as running a couple of projects ourselves. Personally I think engaging people through the process of actually doing science is incredibly valuable and I hope the field continues to grow.
I came across this project this morning and was really excited to see the depth to which this study took public engagement. The project, called “Stick Out Your Tongue” took place in Spain and targeted primarily high-school aged students. They’ve sampled the oral microbiome of more than 4,000 individuals as well as collecting a fair amount of health data and metadata from the participants. They make that point that many of these kinds of projects tend to engage primarily people who are already interested in science but that working through schools they could reach a broader population. Specifically they say:
“Most such projects are participated in by citizens who have a certain specialization in the field, such as ornithology enthusiasts, or amateur astronomists, for observation studies.”
Which I think is a good point. Obviously there’s a lot of interesting science that can come out of a big dataset like this but that’s not the part I thought was really cool.
In addition to the actual study, they held a contest for projects that would actually analyze the data. These projects… proposed either by students alone or by entire classrooms will focus on statistical and bioinformatic analysis of the data. Some examples:
“Among the winning projects are a study on asthmatics on the relationship between their asthma and changes in their oral microbiome, a study on the influence of regular consumption of antibiotics and the oral microbiome or an exploratory analysis of the effects of smoking on the microbiome.”
I think this is fabulous stuff and I hope more citizen microbiology projects head in this kind of direction with their data analysis.