Open Notebook Science – The Chytrid Project

Open Notebook Science Most of my work over the last few years has been involved with science education, and much of the online effort has gone into surfacing aspects of the scientific literature by making it accessible to a student audience, and indeed the general public, should they be interested. Mostly, this has meant developing the MicrobiologyBytes website, along with its Twitter, Friendfeed and Facebook satellites. In my “education hat on” guise, I write frequently online about my work on Science of the Invisible, Twitter and Friendfeed. So why would I need another public outlet?

Open notebook science (ONS) is the practice of making the primary record of a research project publicly available online as it is generated. This involves placing the personal, or laboratory, notebook of the researcher(s) online along with all raw and processed data, and any associated material. The approach can be summed up by the slogan “no insider information”. This is far from the norm of scientific practice, but over the last year of talking to some of the leading practitioners of ONS, notably Jean-Claude Bradley and Cameron Neylon, I have become convinced that I would like to try it. One part of our feasibility test is a new blog, a space where our part-formed thoughts, ideas, planning, and general commentary on ONS stuff will appear. The other part is our open notebook on Wikispaces, where all the data will be posted. If you want to follow our progress, subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog, or go to this page and subscribe with the feed reader of your choice. If you prefer, you can receive updates via your email account.

Open or closed? It’s not that simple. There are many flavours of ONS, and it’s not clear yet which one(s) we want or are able to pursue. Indeed, our style of “open” is one of the first things we need to work out about this project. For a variety of reasons, not all of the research done in our laboratory will switch to ONS. Initially, we intend to try it out with a new project we are developing (which is described below). Thus our approach to ONS is itself an experiment. Only time will tell if we are able or willing to continue in this format. Apart from funding, it depends whether this idea wins hearts and minds – not only in our lab, but beyond it. In part, that depends how much interaction we receive. the project we are beginning is a new field for us, so we don’t expect the world to be queuing up to help us, but to be successful, the downside risk of ONS needs to be balanced by the upside of helpful positive interactions from interested observers.

So what about the science?

The chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is an emerging pathogen of amphibians worldwide. The aquatic zoospores of this primitive fungus infect larval or adult amphibians, and, depending on the host species and other factors as yet unknown, may cause anything from 0-100% mortality. Coupled with climate change, pollution and habitat loss, chytridiomycosis (or “chytrid”, pronounced “kit-rid”) is a serious threat to many amphibian species. Bd research has moved from obscurity to prominence very rapidly over the past few years, and two complete genome sequences are available (JAM81, JEL423):

So where do we fit in?

We are trying to leverage our existing skills in molecular biology, antibody production, protein chemistry and microbiology to study this organism. In part, this is because of an interest in the environmental impact of this emerging pathogen, but we are also interested in studying Bd as a model organism to examine aspects of fungal biology and pathogenesis. We are currently interested in developing work in the following areas:

  1. In vitro assays for Bd infection.
  2. Development of reagents and assays for field studies.
  3. The attachment phase of Bd infection.
  4. The role of antimicrobial peptides in the amphibian response to Bd infection.
  5. MicroRNAs in Bd infection.
  6. Use of RNAi to manipulate Bd.
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