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CROWDSOURCING SCIENCE

September 01, 2014

CROWDSOURCING SCIENCE

When Sarah Gignoux-Wolfsohn and Felicia Aronson launched a website to raise money for research on coral disease, some of their stodgier colleagues were skeptical

When Sarah Gignoux-Wolfsohn and Felicia Aronson launched a website to raise money for research on coral disease, some of their stodgier colleagues were skeptical. The researchers from Northeastern University raised $6,300 — twice their goal — and also proved meaningful science can be done for an average donation of $80.

The funds allowed them to travel to STRI’s Bocas Del Toro Research Station and spend a month investigating white band disease, blamed for the death of up to 95 percent of the reefbuilding Elkhorn and Staghorn coral in the Caribbean. The extra funds allowed them to take samples to Northeastern and run next-generation sequencing on bacteria.

“The crowdsourcing was a fun way to talk to people about the research in a way that makes them understand,” said Aronson, a research technician. “It was great to share that over social media.”

Scientists noticed white band was killing coral in the late 1970s. Research by Steven Vollmer, a former STRI postdoc and the advisor on this project, has shown that white band is caused by a bacterial infection but the identity of the bacteria causing the infection is a mystery. Gignoux-Wolfson and Aronson aim to identify it in hopes of developing methods to control the disease.

“There are a lot of coral diseases and they’re not very well understood,” said Gignoux-Wolfsohn, a Ph.D. candidate. “But we know coral has a lot of bacteria, some of which are probably beneficial. We want to understand what happens when a coral shifts from a healthy bacterial community to a diseased bacterial community.”

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