Friday, August 29, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Microbes to battle in space

By
From page A1 | March 06, 2014 |

By Sam Wood
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Forget about the Olympics in Sochi and the puffy peaks of the Caucasus Mountains.

There’s a sporting event soon to get underway where the players will face off in a venue out of this world.

The athletes are microbes, microscopic organisms the likes of bacteria and fungi. They’ll be flying aboard the SpaceX Dragon space cargo vessel to a playing field 230 miles above the planet on the International Space Station.

There are nearly 50 microbial players in all, and the monthlong competition, to begin March 16, will see which grows fastest, densest and longest. The microbes will compete against one another, as well as against control microbes at UC Davis.

Rooting for them on Earth will be at least 250 professional cheerleaders and thousands of citizen scientists.

“Competing ‘bugs’ on the space station,” said Jonathan Eisen, a professor at UCD’s department of evolution and ecology, and lead scientist for Project MERCCURI (Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on the International Space Station). “It’s a crazy idea.”

Crazy brilliant.

Officially, Project MERCCURI is studying how microbes grow in near-zero gravity, examining changes in the bugs’ RNA and DNA at higher radiation levels, and developing a profile of the space station’s microbial ecology, with an eye toward managing the environment for long-term missions.

Project MERCCURI is one of hundreds of so-called “citizen science” projects that allow everyday people to collaborate with world-famous researchers.

Many of those projects exist in the online world. For instance, citizen scientists play a game at EyeWire.org that helps MIT neuroscientists map the brain, one neuron at a time. Others require hands-on participation. Hundreds of children and adults collected ants in their back yards for a national ant census, and nearly as many swabbed their navels for a belly-button biodiversity project under the auspices of North Carolina State University’s YourWildLife.org.

At the Wells Fargo Center on Feb. 18, as part of “Science with the Sixers Night,” Project MERCCURI sought out a few good microbes to join the space-bound teams, which already included microbial cultures collected from the Liberty Bell; astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s cell phone; the playing fields of the Raiders, Redskins, Titans and Patriots; the set of “Today”; and Pop Warner football fields across the country.

During the game, cheerleaders took samples from cell phones and shoes on the arena concourse. The samples’ DNA will be sequenced at UCD, and at least one lucky contestant will be rocketed to the space station.

The idea began with Eisen. When not commanding his microbiology lab at UCD, he leads an effort to bring public awareness to the Microbiome of the Built Environment. Funded by the Sloan Foundation, it’s an ambitious investigation of the invisible world of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live with us — in our basements, bedrooms, boardrooms, and any other indoor space you can imagine.

At a scientific conference, Eisen met Darlene Cavalier, a former 76ers cheerleader from Society Hill. Better chemistry couldn’t be cooked up in a test tube. They immediately hit it off.

Eisen needed data and help getting out the message of microbes. Cavalier was uniquely qualified to provide both.

After Cavalier hung up her pompoms, the mother of four created two startups: Science Cheerleader, a network of 250 current and former professional cheerleaders whose mission is to encourage kids to take up science careers, and SciStarter.com, a website that serves as the nation’s clearinghouse for crowd-sourcing science projects.

Several months later, Cavalier learned of a competition to send science projects into space and alerted Eisen.

“I said, ‘If we can do anything, I want to swab the space station,’ ” Eisen said. “After all, it’s probably the most unique ‘built environment’ we have.”

Cavalier, though, wanted public engagement. “Astronauts taking samples at the space station,” she said, “is not something people can participate in.”

And Project MERCCURI was born.

“We spoke about doing something big,” Cavalier said blithely. “I offered to help him gather a few thousand samples.” With help from another UCD scientist,Wendy Davis, also a Science Cheerleader, they fast-tracked a proposal, won the competition, then hit the ground running.

As head of Science Cheerleaders, Cavalier had access to NFL stadiums and NBA arenas across the country. She deployed her army of cheerleaders — most of whom work as full-time science professionals when they’re not cheering — to collect microbial samples swabbed by fans and players on the gridirons and the courts.

Even before the microbes lift off, Eisen and Cavalier have accomplished much of their intended mission.

They’ve not only encouraged stadiums full of regular people to think of “germs” in a new way, but made them into amateur investigators in a real rocket-science venture.

— Online: http://bit.ly/1nd9fYk

Comments

comments

The Associated Press

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Saving Putah Creek: a quiet concert at sunset

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Mr. Dolcini goes to Washington

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Winton to be feted for her many years of community work

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Davis Innovation Center team fields questions

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Researchers solve mystery of Death Valley’s moving rocks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    California extends review of $25B delta plan

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Assembly approves statewide ban on plastic bags

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Celebrate the Senior Center at Sept. 9 luncheon

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Need a new best friend?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Equestrian eventing competition slated

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Dinner, auction benefit Yolo County CASA

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Forum explores local mental health services

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Solar-cooking workshop set at Food Co-op

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Kids can sign up for a library card and get a free book

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Explorit Science Center: Volunteers supercharge summer camp

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A4 | Gallery

    Tee off for Davis’ continued prosperity

    By Lily Holmes | From Page: A4

     
     
    Bodega Marine Laboratory hosts open house

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

    Local group charts a year’s worth of beauty in flowers

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Free blood pressure screenings offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Name Droppers: UCD honors two of its own

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

     
    Books, conversation and poetry at Logos

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    .

    Forum

    Let’s sell the MRAP on eBay

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: C2

     
    Seeing both sides of ‘tank’

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: C2

    What if we need MRAP?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: C2

     
    How could tank be helpful?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: C2

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: C2

    Don’t sentence our police to death

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: C2, 1 Comment

     
    Will Davis see river water?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: C2

    Travel buddy is getting too fat

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    .

    Sports

    Forget the score; focus on the energy brought by Aggies

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

     
    Returning seniors, new faces lead promising DHS links squad

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Devil golfers return from Scotland with smiles on their faces

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Devils scrimmage with Sac

    By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    UCD-Stanford: the clock is down to counting the minutes

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

     
    Wire briefs: Aces cruise past Cats at Raley

    By Wire and staff reports | From Page: B6

    Sports briefs: DHS girls fall by the slimmest of net margins

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B6 | Gallery

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    ‘The November Man’: Who can be trusted?

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    B Street’s ‘The Ladies Foursome’ is aces

    By Bev Sykes | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    .

    Business

    Technology makes a great car better

    By Ali Arsham | From Page: C1 | Gallery

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Elaine Dracia Greenberg

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Margarita Elizondo

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    .

    Comics