Now the Natural History Museum in Tartu, led by Urmas Kõljalg, has started with two global citizen science networks: FunLeaf to study the diversity of fungi and bacteria living in and on plant leaves; and FunHome to study the diversity of microscopic organisms living in the dusty corners of our homes.
Below you can find a little overview of both projects, for more information click the links to project web pages.
FunLeaf (link to project page)
All parts of plants harbour many microscopic organisms. Especially plant leaves are an important habitat for many fungal and bacterial species that live inside or on the surface of these organs. Yet, very little is known about the diversity and distribution of these microorganisms in relation to habitat, seasonality and geographical space.
This citizen science project, led by well-recognized researchers, aims to describe the biodiversity of organisms associated with plant leaves across the globe. By using DNA-based methods for identification, scientists aim to determine the environmental features that lead to increase or loss of leaf biodiversity. Mathematical models enable to estimate total species richness of microorganisms on leaves to add one piece to the puzzle of global biodiversity.
This project seeks for volunteers who wish to contribute to understanding of complexity of life on the Earth. Participants are given simple protocols for collecting and sterilizing and posting leaf samples. The DNA of dead organisms is analysed only for identification purpose in one or more central laboratories. The results are communicated to participants over the web in each major analysis step. The principal idea of involving citizen science is to bridge frontline research and common people and to shed light on global issues among the public.
FunHome (link to project page)
Households of families harbour dust, which is comprised of particles of fibers and skin and many other biological components including pollen, parts of arthropods and various microscopic organisms. These nutrient-rich substances serve as a substrate for mites and moulds, many of which are severe allergens. Some information exists about the diversity of bacteria and fungi in dust in US homes (doi:10.1073/pnas.1420815112), but information about other organisms and from the entire world is almost lacking (doi:10.1073/pnas.1000454107).
The FunHome citizen science project extends from another public project focused on homes in USA (homes.yourwildlife.org), which has received abundant public feedback and resulted in international scientific publications. The FunHome project is initiated by leading researchers in microbial ecology, with an objective to describe the biodiversity of microbes, plants and animals in household dust across the globe. By using DNA-based methods for identification, scientists aim to determine the global distribution patterns of dust-associated organisms with a focus on particularly toxin-producing species.
Hereby, the project leaders invite volunteers to contribute to a global understanding about the biological composition of dust in the home environment. Participants are provided simple protocols for collecting and storing and posting dust samples. The DNA from dust is analysed in a single central laboratory in the University of Tartu, Estonia. The results are communicated to participants over the web after major analysis steps.