Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Did you receive my soil sample? What did you find in my sample?
A: Information about individual samples is periodically updated on our open-access data sharing platform. Visit ShareOK to learn more about the status of your sample. If you have additional questions about the process or your sample, please use the form below or email us at npdg@ou.edu and we will get back to you as quickly as possible.

QDoes this program have an end date?
A: No. This is on-going research program and we encourage you to refer your friends, family, and colleagues to participate.

Q: I have more than one child. May I submit multiple kits from the same yard so that each of my children may participate? 
A: Yes! The diversity of fungi found in different areas of your yard can vary a great deal. If you are requesting multiple samples for a family, we encourage you to collect the samples from different areas around your property (e.g., if one child collects a sample from the front yard, have the other child collect from the back yard). Sign up to participate today!

Q: Have you found anything good from samples people have submitted?
A: Absolutely. We are finding that the soil samples submitted by citizen science contain many unique fungi. Our genetic analyses suggest that many of the fungi we have grown from the samples are likely new to the scientific world. These fungi produce natural products, which we are using to test against several disease-related targets. If you are interested in seeing examples of the unique compounds we have found, please look at the publications page on the Natural Product Discovery Group website to review some our published reports about fungi and their natural products. 

Q: Do you want me to send a mushroom instead of dirt?
A: No, please do not send us mushrooms. Most mushrooms are very fleshy and contain lots of water. They will rot by the time they arrive in the mail. Your soil is preferred and if the right propagules (spores) are in it, we can culture the fungi from it.

Q: How long does it take to develop a drug?
A: The short answer is a very long time. Most drugs take 15 years or more to go from discovery (this is what we do with the fungi) to FDA approval for human use. Hundreds-of-thousands or even millions of compounds might be screened before a suitable candidate molecule is found. That is why we are relying on the public to help us build the collection of fungi for drug discovery research. Once a promising compound is found, it will undergo a long development process. A few of those steps include: medicinal chemistry development (make the compound work better and safer), pharmacological testing (how does the compound work), toxicological analysis (is the compound safe), pharmaceutical research (how should the compound be administered), clinical trials (these are staged in three or more parts to examine if a compound is safe and effective in humans), and approval (does the compound meet safety and efficacy requirements for human use). Hundreds and even thousands of people are ultimately involved over many years trying to get a single new drug ready for human use. Learn more about the laboratory processes we use to discover new natural products from your sample.

Q: If there are a lot of fungi in the dirt at my house, is it bad for me and my family?
A: In the vast majority of cases, having fungi in the soil around your house is not only good, but it is essential for human life as we know it! Fungi are an important part of a healthy ecosystem in which they play the role of nature’s recyclers. Have you ever wondered what happens to all of those grass clippings from mulching mowers and leaves from trees when they land in your yard? They generally seem to vanish leaving no trace that they were ever there. You can thank the fungi for this disappearing act. Fungi are great at decomposing organic matter. They turn leaves, plants, trees, and other living things into a variety of the simple chemical building blocks that ultimately get recycled back into new living organisms. If it were not for fungi, we would all be struggling to live among the heaps of dead plant and animal tissues that had accumulated. Fortunately, fungi break those things back down so that other living things can spring up in their place.

Q: Do you really use Cheerios to grow fungi? Why and how did that come about?
A: Yes, we do indeed use Cheerios to grow fungi. It turns out Cheerios offers a great combination of nutrients that fungi really like to eat, they can be obtained at a reasonable cost for producing natural products, and the product is manufactured in a consistent way, which is key for conducting reproducible experiments. Several years back, our lab was exploring different things that fungi might consume to grow and make natural products. Many of the foods used by scientific research groups to grow fungi are quite expensive and we were wondering if lower cost options were available. After sampling several types of foods from local supermarkets, we found that Cheerios not only enabled fungi to grow very well, but also led to the production of the natural products that we needed for our drug discovery research. We have found that almost every fungus we encounter will grow on Cheerios and our lab has used them ever since.

Q: Do you study anything else in the soil besides fungi?
A: The fungi have kept us pretty busy and we have had little opportunity to study any other organisms in the soil samples. We know that the soils also contain many bacteria and we are sharing the soils with other researchers who are interested in exploring these microbes.

Q: How long will it take to test my soil sample before I see information about it on the ShareOK website?
A: While we work as fast as possible to process samples, we can only go as fast as the fungi and good scientific practices will allow us. Generally, it may take several months and up to a year before your results are posted to ShareOK website. If you are part of a school group or club that is trying to use the information as part of a child’s curriculum, we ask that you please 1) contact us early so that we have time to process samples, 2) let us know what you are doing so that we can fast-track your samples, and 3) plan ahead so that there will be plenty of time to post data.

Q: How much does it cost for a person to participate as a citizen scientist?
A: Nothing – the program is free to participants! We have tried as best as possible to cover as many of the costs associated with the program. We do much of our work with sponsorship from the National Institutes of Health, which supports our drug discovery projects. However, the public’s participation in the program is not covered by the NIH and instead, we have relied on the generosity of the University of Oklahoma administration and you, the public, for donor support. Each soil collection kit is sent at no charge, which enables anyone who wishes, including school groups and clubs, to participate. However, the actual price of obtaining the soil samples works out to about $6 per samples. The kit materials are about $1, while the shipping to and from the citizen scientists cost roughly $5 (depending on the amount of soil people put in the sample bag…remember, we only need a couple tablespoons of soil!). Fortunately, through the kindness of many wonderful people who have donated funds to the program, we have been able to continue offering kits to the public for free. If you want to help us keep this program free to the public, please consider making a donation.

Q: Where is the best place to collect a sample?
A: Anywhere on your property can contain fungi, so you should feel free to sample wherever you like. With that said, we are observing a trend that suggests samples taken from less disturbed soils seem to have more types of fungi than soils collected from highly disturbed areas such as flower gardens and vegetable patches. Learn more and sign up to participate now.

Q: How are donations used by the Citizen Science Soil Collection Program?
A: We use 100% of all donations to fund the public soil collection process. No overhead or administrative costs are deducted from donations. Make a donation today.

Q: What do you do with all the fungi?
A: We use the fungi to find new natural products that have applications for the treatment of human diseases. Since we are not-for-profit organization, we have the ability to target many disease areas that afflict both large and small groups of people such as pediatric cancers and parasitic diseases. We also share samples from the collection with researchers from across the United States in order to try and find useful compounds that work against a wide range of diseases including breast cancers, neurodegeneration, tuberculosis, malaria, and many others. We are constantly forging new collaborations with medical research labs in order to find as many new and useful compounds as possible from the collection. Learn more about the science behind the program.

 

Visit the Learn section to explore additional program details.

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