The AWRI is working with school students around Australia on a citizen science project called ‘Yeast Catchers’ that is looking for undiscovered Australian fungal species. This project is funded by a Citizen Science grant from the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources – as part of a program which seeks to engage the public in scientific research projects.
How does it work?
The Yeast Catchers project aims to isolate yeasts endemic to Australia, while introducing real-world scientific research into Australian schools. Sampling tubes containing yeast-selective media are distributed to participating schools. Students then find natural objects from their local environment (documented in geo-tagged photos) and add these objects (e.g. soil, plants, rocks or insects) to the tubes. The tubes then sit in the classroom for two weeks to see if there are any signs of microbial growth. Samples that display microbial growth are returned to the AWRI, where a combination of metagenomic DNA sequencing, strain isolation and whole-genome sequencing are used to identify and characterise the species present in each sample. Feedback is provided to each school about the species their students isolated, and students may have the opportunity to participate in further experiments on yeasts they have isolated.
Year 1 results
In the first year of the project, eight schools participated, and 90 positive cultures were re-cultured and arrayed on agar plates to obtain yeast isolates. A total of 958 isolates were typed to species-level using ITS profiling. Homology analysis indicates at least 37 different species of yeast across the dataset, with some species present in more than one sample. Draft whole genome sequencing was performed for 96 isolates that represent the breadth of predicted species and site diversity. Positive identification was established for 63 isolates based upon draft genomic data. At least 29 schools are expected to participate in year 2 of the project.