The BioWeatherMap Initiative
An experiment in collaborative environmental surveillance and discovery.
The BioWeatherMap initiative is a global, grassroots, distributed environmental sensing effort aimed at answering some very basic questions about the geographic and temporal distribution patterns of microbial life. Utilizing the power of high-throughput, low cost DNA sequencing and harnessing the drive of an enlightened public we propose a new collaborative research approach aimed at generating a steady stream of environmental samples from many geographic locations to produce high quality data for ongoing discovery and surveillance. Our approach will provide a unique opportunity to engage the public in the scientific research process while we address fundamental questions such as “How diverse is the microbial life around us?” and “How do microbial communities in different habitats change over time?” and “How can advanced sequencing technologies best be utilized to address issues in biodiversity, public health, and biosurveillance?”
The BioWeatherMap Initiative aims to become a platform to enable distributed environmental sensing capabilities, with major impacts in Biodiversity, Public Health, and BioSurveillance.
BioDiversity: Global biodiversity is dominated by microscopic organisms. Until recently, most knowledge about microbial life was generated from the tiny fraction of species able to grow in laboratory conditions. Advances in sequencing technology now allow us to characterize the diversity of microbial life directly from the environment, vastly increasing our ability to answer basic questions like “What lives around us?”.
Public Health: The SARS outbreak of 2003 which killed over 700 people, coupled with heightened concerns about bioterrorism and the sudden appearance of pandemic disease, have led public health organizations to reevaluate methods used to track, report and monitor emerging disease threats. High-throughput, low cost sequencing technologies will increasingly provide public health organizations the ability to rapidly probe the environment to identify allergens, microbes and viruses. Major global diseases that can be detected via direct sequencing include Cholera, MDR Tuberculosis, HIV AIDS, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Flu and Anthrax among others.
BioSurveillance: A BioWeatherMap platform will enable more comprehensive monitoring of critical national resources such as food and water supplies. Farmers may begin to explore how microbial diversity of soil impacts crop yields. Students and hobbyists may compare notes about how the composition of microbes in outdoor air changes with environmental conditions.
So if you have ever wondered how the microbes in your town compare to other cities and habitats, we're going to find out and you can get involved. Check out the project brief (PDF) or the Instructable for more details. Sign-up for email updates or join the facebook group.