Last few days of the #SciFund challenge!

By Siouxsie Wiles

Just 4 days left to support some cool science!

Entering its final phase*, round 2 of the #SciFund challenge has surpassed the records made by round 1:

  • Over $79K contributed to date
  • 17 out of 75 projects have reached their target

My own project, Evolution in Action is just $102 short of $4K which is amazing. That’s almost 9 extra genomes to sequence! A big thanks to everyone who has supported me, either by contributing or helping spread the word. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.

*Thank goodness! I’m exhausted and can’t wait to get back to some proper blogging…

Crowdfunding science: the SciFund Challenge

By Siouxsie Wiles

In late 2011, two ecologists from the US National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in California embarked on an exciting experiment: to see if the crowdfunding model [1] successfully used by ‘Creatives’ [2] could be applied to funding science. And enthuse the general public about science in the process.

Dr. Jai Ranganathan and Dr. Jarrett Byrnes set up the SciFund Challenge, tasking a group of scientists to use the power of their various networks (including their family, friends and colleagues) to raise money for their research. Almost 50 projects were offered up, covering topics as diverse as parasitic plants, flying foxes, Amazonian crabs, domesticating algae, duck erections, Roman slaves, zombie fish and undersea kelp forests. Using the popular crowdfunding site RocketHub [3] as a platform, the scientists raised over US$76,000.

Two scientists who ran really successful campaigns were Kelly Weinersmith and Kristina Killgrove. Kelly raised US$5,000 for her studies of the parasite Euhaplorchis californiensis which makes zombies out of California killifish, while Kristina raised over US$10,000 for her project looking at the DNA of Roman skeletons to learn more about immigrants in the Empire.

Perhaps as a mark of the success of the SciFund Challenge, a similar site has recently launched called Petridish [4], which currently has 18 projects on offer. Meanwhile Round 2 of the SciFund Challenge starts on the 1st May. This time more than 140 scientists from all over the world will be taking part. Here are some teasers to get you interested [5]!

1. Rather than relying on one wealthy benefactor for full funding, crowdfunding seeks small contributions from lots of people to get projects off the ground.

2. Defined by RocketHub as “entrepreneurs, actors, artists, composers, dancers, designers, directors, filmmakers, inventors, musicians, painters, philanthropists, poets, politicians, programmers, singers, songwriters, teachers, writers, and more”.

3. RocketHub works on an ‘keep it all’ system: the Creative gets to keep all the money they raise, even if they don’t hit their target, minus a 4% RocketHub fee and a 4% credit card transaction fee.

4. Petridish, which charges a 5% fee, works on an “all or nothing” system, where projects will only be funded if they reach their financial goal before a set deadline.

5. Conflict of interest declaration… one of those is for my project!

Bite Sized Science: Glowing sushi!

By Siouxsie Wiles

When I first heard of this (and thanks to the lovely Alan Huett for the heads up), I immediately thought it was due to the common bioluminescent bacteria often found on fish and which can show themselves if said fish is left too long before eating.

I was wrong. It turns out to be sushi made using genetically modified fluorescent zebrafish (GloFish®). Sold in the USA by Yorktown Technologies, GloFish® available are currently available in five colours (Starfire Red®, Electric Green®, Sunburst Orange®, Cosmic Blue™ and Galactic Purple™). They were developed by incorporating genes for fluorescent proteins, originally derived from jellyfish or sea coral, into zebrafsh embryos. While Yorktown advise that, as with other ornamental fish, GloFish® are not intended for human consumption, Cooking with GloFish offers suggestions* on how to prepare such delicacies as “stop and glow nigirizushi” and “kryptonite roll”.

There is a fab video of GloFish swimming around and generally being fluorescent on You Tube.

While GloFish® are some of the first genetically modified animals to become publicly available as pets, their origins aren’t in the ornamental fish trade but as a scientific tool. Fluorescent zebrafish are commonly used by scientists to study everything from gene expression and vertebrate development, to wound healing, cancer and cardiovascular disease. The New Zealand-based Biotechnology Learning Hub has loads of information on the use of zebrafish by Associate Professor Don Love and his team at Auckland University to study the inherited disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy. They comment on how zebrafish mutants are made, how they are looked after in the lab and the ethics of using them as a model organism.

As Saturday the 24th March is World TB Day, I’ll finish off with a little round up of how the zebrafish is being used in research into Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the agent of TB. I’ve blogged about why TB is such a big problem before, but just to remind you, it is estimated that a third of the world’s population are latently infected, it kills 4,500 people every day and we are now facing strains that are resistant to all currently used antibiotics.

Zebrafish are naturally susceptible to M. marinum, a close relative of M. tuberculosis. M. marinum is also an opportunistic pathogen of man, causing the wonderfully named ‘fish-fancier’s finger’ or ‘fish-tank disease’. Unlike M. tuberculosis, M. marinum is a hazard group 2 organism, meaning it doesn’t require a specialised biosafety level 3 lab to work with. Prof Lalita Ramakrishnan and her team at the University of Washington have shown that M. marinum actively recruits and infects macrophages, using them to aid dissemination. This is forcing a complete rethink of the role of macrophages in human TB infection. Meanwhile Dr David Tobin at Duke University Medical Centre are using zebrafish to look for host genes involved in susceptibility to TB.

* Fluorescent proteins are denatured at high temperatures so best not to cook!

This post first appeared on the New Zealand-based science blogging site, Sciblogs. Dr Siouxsie Wiles is a microbiologist and bioluminescence enthusiast who heads the Bioluminescent Superbugs Group at the University of Auckland.