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Do Your DNA Duty: Collect Wild Animal Poop and Dog Saliva for Science

You can help collect data for scientific studies by mailing researchers your dog's saliva, samples of the forest floor and even spiny anteater scat.

Citizen Science Salon iconCitizen Science Salon
By Bob Hirshon
Mar 9, 2020 11:00 PMMar 10, 2020 2:04 AM
Puppy Dog Eyes - Shutterstock
(Credit: Fotyma/Shutterstock)


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Genome sequencing technology is advancing at a breathtaking pace. In the decades since the Human Genome Project, scientists have developed the tools to rapidly analyze huge amounts of genetic material. You can now learn about your ancestry -- or even your pet's pedigree -- in just weeks thanks to mail-in services like 23andme.

And it's not just companies building up these large pools of genetic information, either. Many scientists are conducting large-scale studies that require abundant DNA samples. These researchers need your help building their datasets by collecting everything from your pet's saliva to spiny anteater poop.

(Credit: Gladskikh Tatiana/Shutterstock)

Your pets may not have Ph.Ds., but they can still contribute to cutting edge research. The Darwin’s Ark project team needs pet survey information, DNA samples and, for a tick disease project, actual ticks you collect. Your data will benefit pets and their humans, too.

Take Part: Join the Darwin's Ark Project

(Credit: S. Hermann & F. Richter/Pixabay)

Since all living things shed DNA, you can conduct a census of every living thing that’s been in an area, from bacteria to banana slugs, by collecting environmental DNA, or eDNA, samples. Learn how to do it at CalEDNA and, if you’re in California, collect and submit samples for use in research.

Take Part: Join the CalEDNA Project

(Credit: Gunjan Pandey/Wikimedia Commons)

If you’re in Australia, you can help protect adorable and endangered echidnas, also known as spiny anteaters. The appreciative scientists at Echidna CSI want you to collecting these egg-laying mammals' poop and send it to them so researchers can extract DNA, stress hormones and other poop-related compounds. Remember — really, for no reason at all — that you can’t spell Echidna without DNA!

Take Part: Join the Echidna CSI Project

(Credit: Immersion Images/Shutterstock)

Not interested in collecting poop or surrendering Fido's DNA? You can still help with genetic studies. And with the Phylo computer game, you’ll be having so much fun, you might forget that you’re actually solving a Multiple Sequence Alignment problem by optimizing genetic data related to cancer and other maladies, previously aligned by a heuristic algorithm. These potentially life-saving puzzles are more than just fun and games.

Take Part: Join the Phylo Project

Find more citizen science projects at SciStarter.org.

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