Friday, November 17, 2017

Discovering Wyoming's Microbiome Through Data

Wyoming researchers are diving deeper into data collection in order to better understand Wyoming’s microbiome. Yet one of the most challenging parts of collecting data is meaningfully sharing it with the public. Dr. Shannon Albeke, with the Wyoming Geographic Information Science Center has developed a data discovery tool that aims to do just that.  

The data discovery tool is an interactive web-map containing the spatial locations of collected data. Users can search the data base with specific filters based on location or the type of data. All of the data is free and open to public access online. 

The map interface of the data discovery tool. The orange points indicate data sets collected in the Medicine Bow and Laramie area.

Development of the tool began a few years ago with the input of WyCEHG data. The hydrological and geophysical data collected during this time will also be useful information for researchers investigating the microbial communities in these areas. 

“Ideally, this would be a one stop shop for researchers and their data to interact across discipline boundaries,” Shannon explains. 

Traditionally, data collection programs like this one have static data sets, but the discovery tool will have live data sets that update every 15 minutes. This is one of the first tools of its kind to include this feature. 

The discovery tool is still in its initial testing phase and will undergo more development. While most of the programming aspects of the tool have been completed, the next focus will be on the interface. Making the data base user friendly and easy to access is an important component of the project.
While the data discovery tool is now home to diverse data sets from across Wyoming, Shannon was interested in the tools ability to aid outreach efforts across the state. Shannon has collaborated with Dr. Andrea Burrows on incorporating the Data Discovery Tool into K-12 curriculum across Wyoming. Through her Science Methods class, Dr. Burrows has recruited undergraduate and graduate students to develop lesson plans that relate to microbiology.

"This is a great way to support scientists and teachers, but it's also a learning opportunity for students, soon they will be in the classroom teaching," Andrea says.

Science Methods students display their depiction of cyanobacteria with their microbe art project.

The initial lesson plans include an art project undergraduate students completed in their science methods class. To better understand microbes, the students divide pictures of microbes into three separate sections. Then in groups of three, each student painted a silk screen of their section of the microbe photo. When all three paintings are brought together, they complete the whole picture. Students working on the lesson plan development also proposed including microbiology into topics that are traditional covered in K-12 curriculum by focusing on microbes that exist within the food chain or ecosystem.  

“This is a great experience for students because the lesson plans they create can be used for 4-5 years throughout the grant. Each year new students or teachers can alter and build upon these original lesson plans,” Andrea explains. 

Andrea looks forward to directly relating these lesson plans to the use of the data discovery tool.  Teachers can pick specific microbes to study based on what is in their surrounding locations.

Shannon also mentioned storing imagery of microbes for younger students to view would also be beneficial. Additional modules and functionalities such as this can be incorporated into the data discovery tool to better aid outreach efforts.

With the development of the data discovery tool used in conjunction with outreach efforts, open data available to the public will further encourage more scientific exploration throughout the state.