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2012 Annual Science Report

Pennsylvania State University Reporting  |  SEP 2011 – AUG 2012

EPO Activity: EPO: Citizen Science Study of Distributed Domestic Water Heater Microbiology Diversity

Project Progress

Presently, there is a growing interest in the biogeography of microorganisms. By looking at the genetic differences from isolates of similar microbes from across the globe, researchers are currently trying to understand the degree to which populations of microbes are isolated and whether this isolation suggests an allopatric speciation model for prokaryotes. We propose to conduct a citizen science pilot study of microbial diversity in water heaters to both, (1) access the feasibility of basing a citizen science project on field microbiology, and (2) generate a first image of the biogeographic distribution of thermophilic microorganisms across the United States.

We had 212 requests for sampling packets, so we were able to distribute them around the United States and collected at least one sample from every state. By March 2012 we had 101 samples returned, at least one from every state in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. The PSARC team is now analyzing the samples to determine the biogeographic distribution of themophilic organisms across the United States.

Water Heater Sampling

The PSARC Citizen Science Project will study the biogeographic distribution of thermophilic microorganisms across the United States. Water was sampled from domestic water heaters, collected in filters, and shipped back to Penn State for processing and further study.

Citizen Science in Action

A young citizen takes a sample from her home water heater.

A map of the United States, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, showing the locations where citizen scientists sampled their home water heaters and returned those samples to Penn State for analysis.