Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Discover the Living World Hidden in Your Own Home

Photo Courtesy: OpenScientist.org
Let's get back to basics. Here at OpenScientist we haven't looked at an individual project for a while now.  Although spouting off my opinions on citizen science is fun my first love has always been the projects themselves.  So today let's look at an interesting one I've waited a long time to join, Wild Life of Our Homes.

I discovered this project about six months ago but when signing up discovered they were temporarily filled up.  Ever since I've been waiting to receive participation kit.  But that wait is over as it arrived in the mail last week.

If you've ever wondered about whether your house is really as clean as you think it is, this project will be perfect for you.  Researchers are looking to understand the millions of tiny creatures and microscopic life living on your doors, your kitchen counter tops, and even your pillow.  It may seem a bit gross at first, but remember, you've been living with these creatures all your life.  In fact some may even be beneficial to your health.  So scientists need to learn more about them and how they impact human health.

What specific hypotheses are they trying to test?

  1. Your home's physical characteristics influence the microbial communities found inside it.
  2. The macro-species with whom you share your home influence the microbial communities found within it.
  3. Geography, Climate, and Landscape features influence the microbial composition inside and outside of houses.
  4. The microbes you live with influence your health and well being.
The only way to find these answers is to sample homes from across the country.  So won't  you sign up and donate a little bit of home to science?

Getting Started is Easy:
  1. Check out the main Your Wild Life web site to learn more about this and a number of other related projects. 
  2. Register online to receive a collection kit.  While mine took months to arrive they still have a few kits available and the wait is currently quite short.
  3. Once the kit arrives create a new account at wildhomes.org.  Provide your name and e-mail address, and once you receive a confirmation e-mail back then click through to finish registering.  The process is admittedly odd but doesn't take up too much time.
  4. Log back in and complete the participant questionnaire.  It's a bit long but the questions are easy.  Just provide short answers to about the pets and plants in your house, describe the house, and let them know about home's residents and any relevant allergies. 
  5. Click Submit and get your confirmation code.  And before you forget, write this number on the handy test tube labels provided in the kit.
  6. Now Collect some SAMPLES!!!  The instructions are pretty easy to follow; just unwrap the packaging, twist off the cap, and simultaneously rub both Q-tips on the requested surface.  Close it up tight to keep everything sterile and attach the proper label.  This should take less than five minutes.
  7. Last but not least, sign the informed consent document and seal everything up in the pre-addressed envelope.  Add $1.95 in postage (5 first-class stamps) and send it on it's way.  Don't worry about the $2 though...it's a small price for the fun of participating and let's the researchers send kits to more people.
Now we just have to wait until the analysis gets done...and that's when it gets interesting.  Participants will receive an e-mail linking them to the results from their very own kits.  So if you want to know, really want to know, check back in and learn about all the wild life living with you in your own house!  Just don't tell your significant other :)

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