Help Find The Fungus

Rillke's Chemical Drug Collection. Rainer Rillke

Project: Citizen Science Soil Collection Program

Do you have a shovel and a few minutes to spare? Then you can help researchers find fungi that could be used to create life-saving drugs.

You’ve seen fungi at the grocery store: mushrooms are a type of fungi that grow in damp soil near trees. You’ve also seen fungi in your basement or bathroom, in the form of yeasts and molds. Some types of yeasts and molds can be a pain to clean up and eliminate, while others are highly beneficial to humans (think: penicillin). There are roughly 100,000 species of fungi known to science right now, but we need to learn more.

Similar to a program I wrote about in January, the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program wants you to get a soil sample from your yard and send it to a research team at the University of Oklahoma. Scientists will analyze the sample for microscopic fungi that might be useful to medicine. To participate, you simply request a soil collection kit, and follow the directions in the kit when it arrives. You can later check to see how your sample is progressing through the analysis process via this PDF link:

“Nearly 500 samples were submitted last year by citizen scientists, yielding well over 5,500 fungi that are being used to find new natural products that are active against several types of cancer (e.g., pediatric, breast, and pancreatic cancers) and infectious pathogens (e.g., tuberculosis, MRSA, yeast infections, and parasites),” said project spokesman Robert H. Cichewicz, Ph.D.

“Only a small fraction of the world’s fungi have ever been tested, so the contributions of citizen scientists can help make a huge difference toward the discovery of new therapeutic leads.”

To learn more about the fungal “natural product discovery” process, check out the chart at this link: Have fun digging!

Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can connect with her on Twitter @chandraclarke .