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The University of Oklahoma

Citizen Science Soil Collection Program

The Citizen Science Soil Collection Program was first established in 2010 at the University of Oklahoma. As the foremost and only continuously operating program of its kind, the mission of Citizen Science Soil Collection Program is to bring citizen scientists like yourself together with biomedical researchers in an effort to find new drug-like molecules from fungi. Research has revealed that soils are home to millions of unique fungi. Many of these fungi produce mixtures of molecules known as natural products that hold tremendous promise for development into new medicines. Biomedical researchers at the University of Oklahoma’s Natural Products Discovery Group are using the fungi obtained from soil samples collected by citizen scientists to find new natural products that halt cancer cell growth, stop the spread of infectious pathogens, and kill life-threatening parasites.

The keys to discovery are right below your feet.

Over the last century, researchers have obtained many important drugs from fungi including antibiotics, cholesterol-lowering medicines, and immunosuppressants. Astonishingly, all of these drugs were found based on efforts that explored roughly just 5% of the Earth’s fungal species. With so much potential to provide new medicines, our research group is working to test as many new fungi as possible for drug-like molecules. But we cannot do this job on our own – we need your help. Whether you live in a big city, a rural town, or the pristine wilderness, the soil in your yard is teeming with new and untested fungi. To start your journey toward becoming a citizen scientist, all we ask is for you to send us a small scoop of soil from your yard. This simple, yet important act will help our team to continue the process of exploring fungi as a source of new medicines.

Make a difference: become a citizen scientist

Anyone can be a citizen scientist. Thousands of individuals from across the United States have already contributed, but in order to achieve our goal of finding new medicines from fungi, we need to keep pushing forward. The soil in your yard is likely to be very unique making it a one-of-a-kind habitat for new fungi. This means that your sample could be the one that helps us find a compound that will positively impact people’s lives. Our lab, as well as those of our collaborators at partnering institutions, are eagerly looking for new natural products that will help treat antibiotic-resistant infections, ovarian and pediatric cancers, malaria, and many other devastating illnesses.

A partnership in drug discovery

Great science can only occur through great partnerships and we need your help by becoming part of our team. When you sign up to become a citizen scientist, you will be joining our network of concerned citizens who have chosen to make a difference by sending us a scoop of soil. But your involvement does not have to end there. We want you to continue the journey with us as we test samples and add them to our open-access data sharing website. Using the online ShareOK system, you can view photos of fungi from your sample, find out about the types of fungi that were discovered, and compare your results to those from people living in your region and across the nation. We also offer a variety of online educational materials that enable citizen scientists both young and old to continue the quest by digging deeper into the world of fungi and drug discovery. School groups, home-school programs, and families from every state have already begun to use the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program as a means for deepening their understanding of how fungi, soils, and chemistry impact their lives. Learn how to get involved.

Help us keep this program free

Participation in this program is currently free of charge and open to the public. Your support is vital to us so that we can continue to send kits to everyone ranging from individuals to school groups across the nation. Every dollar counts. A donation of as little as $6 will help sponsor the cost of one soil collection kit and shipping. A donation of $180 will provide collection materials for an entire school classroom. All donations go directly to supporting program costs. Your donation will help to ensure that everyone can get involved and experience first-hand the scientific discovery process! Make a donation today!

Meet the team

The Natural Products Discovery group is comprised of a team of faculty, staff, researchers, and students in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma. Learn more about the team.


Notice to Program Participants: Soil samples must originate from within the United States (US territories are excluded) and the sample site must be under the ownership of the person submitting the sample (participants under the age of 18 must obtain a parent’s or guardian’s signature on the form). Samples must be returned with a completed and signed collection form. The soil collection process is carried out under the University of Oklahoma Citizen Science Soil Collection Program as a not-for-profit entity. The University of Oklahoma Citizen Science Soil Collection Program is operated under permit number P526P-16-02626 from the United State Department of Agriculture. Use of a soil collection kit in a manner that is inconsistent with the enclosed instructions is forbidden. This program is compliant with current biodiversity treaties. Samples that do not conform to these requirements cannot be used and their contents will be destroyed. Questions? Contact Us.

The Citizen Science Soil Collection Program is brought to you in part by