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Science Cheerleaders Help Send Microbes to Space

Originally published: Nov 14 2013 - 3:45pm, Inside Science TV
By: Marsha Lewis, ISTV Contributing Producer

In the air, on the ground, on every wall, every phone, virtually everything we touch, there lurks an invisible world of microbes. Now, a new project at the University of California-Davis will help scientists understand how microbes grow both on Earth and in space.



“Microbes run the planet! Because even though they’re small, they make many contributions to every ecosystem on the planet,” said Jonathan Eisen, an evolutionary biologist at UC-Davis Genome Center.

Microbes support all kinds of life and even protect us from dangerous infections. They make food for ocean life and feed growing crops in the soil.

That is why Eisen is enlisting citizen scientists to create the first-of-its-kind library of microbes.

“We’d like to get a community of people interested in microbes, and get them to help collect this information,” said Eisen.

Eisen and his team are collaborating with "science cheerleaders" who are swabbing shoes and cell phones at sporting events, schools and homes across the country.

“What we do at these events is ask people to take a swab out of a tube, and then just swab the surface of their cell phone,” said Jenna Lang, a microbiologist at UC-Davis.

The samples are sent back to the lab where microbiologists will identify and grow the microbes in a petri dish to test their ability to form colonies. Then, scientists here on Earth will send the microbes to the International Space Station This will help researchers better understand how microbes grow in space.

“It’s neat to be able to involve people who maybe didn’t go down the path of getting a PhD in microbiology, but they’re really interested in science,” explained Lang.

You can follow the space competition by signing up at www.spacemicrobes.org.

There are many ways you can become a citizen scientist either at home or at school. You can choose from studying microbes to animals to astronomy. Check out www.scistarter.com to find a project that interests you.

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California. She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

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