A Perfect Fit: Citizen Science Soil Collection and SHAREOK

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The University of Oklahoma Natural Products Discovery Group have teamed up with the OU Libraries to make data from their innovative Citizen Science Soil Collection program open to the public.

Citizen scientists support natural products drug discovery

The Natural Products Discover Group (NPDG), led by Principle Investigator Dr. Robert Cichewicz, work to discover and develop new drugs that can be used to treat infections and cancers. The starting point for their drug discovery research are chemicals called natural products that are produced by organisms like the fungi found in soils.

In the beginning, they collected their own soil samples and tested the fungi that could be found locally. Soon, though, they realized that they would need help if they ever hoped to collect samples that spanned the diverse ecosystems of the United States. To expand their reach, the group has created The Citizen Science Soil Collection Program through which citizen scientists from across the country sign up to send in samples from their own backyards. Volunteers go online to request a soil collection kit. The kit includes everything needed to collect a soil sample, from a tiny plastic shovel to return postage. Citizen scientists mail their soil samples back to the NPDG lab, where fungal isolates can be plated and tested. Chemical products produced by fungi found in the soil samples are screened to identify disease-fighting products that can be used to develop drugs to treat human diseases.

The Citizen Science Soil Collection Program was launched in 2010, and since then over 10,000 citizen scientists have requested sample kits.

Sharing research data

With the influx of soil samples and the resultant increase in data produced, the NPDG needed a robust method to communicate data gathered from soil samples. When they reached out to the University of Oklahoma Libraries for help, the libraries’ repository services team—David Corbly, Tao Zhao, and Zhongda Zhang, and Logan Cox—rose to the challenge. They designed a custom site to host the Citizen Science project data in SHAREOK, the joint institutional repository of the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University. The SHAREOK site allows citizen scientists to look up the data generated from their soil samples and also serves as a permanent archive of research data that can be mined by current and future researchers.

How to help

If you are interested in becoming a citizen scientist yourself, visit the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program website to learn more and request a sample kit.

If you would like to donate to support the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program, visit the Thousands Strong donation site. The Thousands Strong fundraiser runs from May 16 to June 16, 2016.

Carolyn Mead-Harvey, Science Librarian, University of Oklahoma

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