my exposure to citizen science

by Itai Doron

While there has always been an innate emphasis on researchers to engage the scientific community through publications and research proposals, a experimental method known as citizen science is leading to newfound emphasis on the scientific community’s engagement with the public. It is typically utilized by providing citizens of a certain locality with instructions for data collection. As I continue to explore graduate programs with a focus on the microbiome and microbial ecology, I have been struck by the number of faculty members involved in citizen science. Several collaborations, such as the Wildlife of Our Homes, connect labs (and their local communities) from across the country.

One of my own exposures to citizen science was with the Gerardo lab through the Atlanta Science Festival. At this event, we  premiered the website Visitors of our booth were provided a plate with bacterial medium and allowed to inoculate it with a body surface or anything else in their environment. Pictures were taken daily for a week and uploaded to the website. Not only is the website still available, but certain members of the lab are working on updating the website and data collection methods for integration into the biology curricula of local Atlanta schools.

Although the importance of generating interest among science outsiders and kids in society cannot be understated, the integration of citizen science also benefits the scientific community, especially among researchers focused on certain microbial symbionts and the microbiome. Research like the projects undertaken by our lab have become possible due to our improving ability to collect and sort large volumes of data from an environment, but this sort of inquiry only results in significant findings if we can find trends in data across many individuals or across multiple environments. Insect collection, for example, could present this problem, especially if the insect of interest is associated with multiple habitats. The utilization of resident insect collectors across these habitats would save us time in the experimental process.

I certainly look forward to future involvement in citizen science during the remainder of my undergraduate career and beyond.

making the unseen microbes around you seen

by Greg Fricker

We live in a microbial world, but how keenly aware are we of the presence of these microbes in our everyday life?  Created with the intent of increasing this awareness, the mycrobes project has been used to illustrate the almost ubiquitous presence of fungi and bacteria in the world around us. Greg-Plate-Broll-3 Students, teachers, and interested people of all ages swab a combination of environmental and human samples onto an LB plate, and then we photograph the plates everyday allowing anyone to catch a glimpse of the diversity of the microbial life in the world around them as they track the progress of their plate online at

One of my favorite things about is that you can search using tags for samples that have been collected from any source of interest (eyeball anyone?).IMG_2029  The mycrobes project has allowed us to reach out to the community and interact with our future scientists as we teach them about the importance of the microscopic community all around them.  Lately, I have had the opportunity to speak to both local elementary school teachers from Bouie Elementary School as well as high school students in the Pre-College Program at Emory about the mycrobes project.  They have been very responsive and it has been very rewarding.

mycrobes has been a wonderful lab-wide effort that would not have been possible without the hard work everyone has put into collecting samples, maintaining the back end, and photographing plates.

If you have any questions or would be interested in participating in the mycrobes project, please contact us.

we love science but we love other things too

by Nicole Gerardo

This week, we did not have the traditional lab meeting. Rather than discussing a paper or critiquing a practice talk, we instead each talked about or demonstrated something that we enjoyed doing outside of the lab. These included singing, going to the movies, photography, baking, knitting and reading. Oh, and taking care of two pet rats. Some are talents. Some are escapes. Some are both. What is clear is that I am fortunate to be surrounded by interesting, engaged people.

our favorite talks at evolution

by The Lab

At our first lab meeting following the Evolution conference, we gave an overview of some of our favorite talks. These included…

  • Todd Castoe‘s talk on snake genomics. Did you know snake blood is thick with fat after a meal? There genomes reflect the evolutionary changes required for an extraordinary metabolism.
  • Jeff Leips‘ talk on finding the genetic basis of life-history traits like life span and fecundity in Drosophila. Using GWAS to identify candidate genes and RNAi to validate their influence on a trait, they showed evidence for the mutation accumulation theory of ageing.
  • Jaideep Joshi created an agent based model illustrating the evolution of altruism in a spatially explicit environment with ‘cooperators’ and ‘defectors.’ This could be a new and interesting way to teach Hamilton’s rule in the classroom.