The kittybiome Project – background and some plans

A little update here.  Last week a group of us launched a new participatory science project on the microbiome of cats. It is called “kittybiome” and we have launched a Kickstarter fundraiser for the project — more information about the project and how one can get involved can be found at the Kickstarter home page:

The main people involved in the project right now are myself, Jennifer Gardy, Jack Gilbert and Holly Ganz. Holly – a Project Scientist in my lab – has been the key developer of the project and the person who took it from discussions and ideas to an actual project. This project has a long and somewhat convoluted history and I will try to write about it another time. Basically the idea started in discussions at a Citizen Microbiology meeting run at UC Davis in 2012 and then re-started in discussions between myself, Jennifer Gardy and Jack Gilbert and then Jack and Jennifer explored possibilities for a year or so and finally Holly joined my lab and when I told her about this as a possible project she took the lead and turned it into this current project (with help from many many people).

Anyway – our hope with this project is to both engage the public in studies of microbiomes and of the microbiome of cats specifically and also to start to gather data to provide a better understanding of the variability in the cat microbiome and how it might be connected to cat biology.  We are interested primarily here in domestic cats but also in general in all cats (e.g., lions and tigers and, well not bears,but cheetahs and such).

I note we are also interested here in the connection between cat microbiomes and the built environment such as in animal shelters, homes and zoos.  So in the long run our hope is to connect cat microbiome studies to studies of the microbial ecology and building science of the places in which the cats reside or spend a lot of time. We recently ran a workshop on “microbiomes of animals in the built environment” and plan to discuss this topic much more here at microBEnet.

We are also hoping to partner with other “cat”-izen science projects such as the brilliant and wonderful CatTracker from Your Wildlife.  If you know of others which we may want to partner with please let us know.

As part of our work in this project we will also be ouytting together various resources about cats and their microbiomes and trying to make them as open and available as we are allowed to do.  For example, I have started an open reference collection via Zotero on kittybiomes that anyone can participate in.

The project has gotten a little bit of press and some blog coverage already:

The Kickstarter project launched last week and we rapidly passed our initial funding goal of $3000 thanks to help from many people.  If you are interested in participating there are a diversity of ways you can contribute – from small donations to sponsoring microbiome studies of a shelter cat to sponsoring microbiome studies of wild cats.  See the Kickstarter page for more info.

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Jonathan Eisen

I am an evolutionary biologist and a Professor at U. C. Davis. My lab is in the UC Davis Genome Center and I hold appointments in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine and the Department of Evolution and Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences. My research focuses on the origin of novelty (how new processes and functions originate). To study this I focus on sequencing and analyzing genomes of organisms, especially microbes and using phylogenomic analysis (see my lab site here which has more information on lab activities).  In addition to research, I am heavily involved in the Open Access publishing and Open Science movements.