Sunday, April 26, 2015
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

     
     
    Davis team wins world robotics championship

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Nepal quake death toll exceeds 1,800

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2 | Gallery

     
    Spring storm delivers late rain, snow to Northern California

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    At the Pond: Plenty of pleasures in our bioregion

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Dog park marks anniversary with cleanup

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Rail-safety bill passes Senate committee

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Free Family Bike Clinic set Sunday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Pioneering organic chef presents her memoir Monday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Suspect in UCD assault arrested

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A4

     
    Watch them in action

    By Julia Ann Easley | From Page: A5

    Stocks rise on tech earnings; Nasdaq adds to record

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

     
    Dodd speaks as part of public policy series

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

    We did it (together)!

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10

     
    $2.72 million judgment ordered against Dollar Tree Stores

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    UCD hosts bike auction Saturday, May 2

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    Fly Fishers to hear about advanced streamer tactics on Tuesday

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11 | Gallery

    Bicycle activist will speak Monday at Hall of Fame

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11 | Gallery

     
    .

    Forum

    Those texts still linger

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B6

     
    New ways of giving locally and beyond

    By Marion Franck | From Page: B6

     
    Study questions accuracy of tumor gene mapping

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

    More work to do for a safe Picnic Day

    By Our View | From Page: A12

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A12

    Poker proceeds help youths

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Invest in water of the future

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

    Water, water everywhere?

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A12

     
    Mayor’s Corner: A spirit of renewal permeates Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A12

     
    Anaheim, where The Force is with you

    By Sebastian Onate | From Page: A13 | Gallery

    .

    Sports

    Davis gets two baseball wins in two days

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1

     
    Grizzlies dominate young Blue Devils on Senior Night

    By Thomas Oide | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Energy, fan-friendly happenings highlight UCD spring football game

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Blue Devil golfers capture CAL Invitational title

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    UCD roundup: Aggies reach water polo semifinals

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    Blue Devil swimmers are up to the challenge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    DHS softball struggles continue against Sheldon

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

     
    Babich brings the heat as DHS girls stick it to Oak Ridge

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B12 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    History comes alive in ‘The Sacramento Picture’

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    Big Italian food, sports bar to fill Little Prague

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A7 | Gallery

     
    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A7

    Davis Roots hires new general manager

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    Comcast announces speed upgrade

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Obituaries

     
    Whitney Joy Engler

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

    Valente Forrest Dolcini

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, April 26, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8