Far-reaching science with far-reaching applications.

MicroBlitz is a local University of Western Australia (UWA) project with a globally significant agenda. With an army of citizen scientists across Western Australia conducting in-the-field soil sampling, this unique environmental survey and research project – led by Winthrop Professor Andrew Whiteley – will revolutionise the way we think about sustainability and the environment.

Microscopic organisms and the biggest challenges facing the world.

Professor Whiteley’s research is as ambitious as it is vital. His goal: To create a map of the diversity and distribution of microbial life across Western Australia.

By engaging citizen scientists throughout the state in the task of sampling soil, Andy and the MicroBlitz team will be able to analyse thousands of samples and create a map based on microbial DNA. With microscopic organisms (such as bacteria and fungi) playing a pivotal ecological and environmental role, not least in terms of regulating greenhouse gases and removing toxins from the soil, it’s an important map that will have far-reaching benefits.

Decoding Earth’s environmental genome.

The MicroBlitz map will become a baseline for monitoring the health of WA’s environment and, in turn, inform strategies and initiatives to address big-picture sustainability issues, such as climate change and food security.

Our team’s research will make a significant contribution towards decoding the planet’s ‘environmental genome’, in much the same way the human genome was unravelled to understand how we as humans work.

From the UK to Australia’s largest state.

While the sheer size and scale of the MicroBlitz project in WA makes it unique, Andy has extensive experience in microbial DNA sequencing, surveying and research.

Following the success of a similar environmental survey in the UK – albeit on a smaller geographical scale – Andy has brought his research to UWA and Australia under the WAPF Program, set up by WA’s State Government to attract pioneering, world-leading research to WA.

In the UK, he led a team of researchers that effectively decoded the environmental genome of UK soils. His team took samples at a five-kilometre resolution and then analysed them in the lab using the latest DNA sequencing technology to identify the dominant microbial species, creating a map of microbial life across the UK.

Biotechnology: The key to super-sizing
MicroBlitz in WA.

Now in WA, Andy and his team aim to build on this previous research and to create a ‘snapshot’ of the diversity and distribution of microbial life in Western Australian soils. But even with a wide-spread community of citizen scientists throughout the state, a project of this scale is only possible due to recent advancements in biotechnology and computer processing.

MicroBlitz researchers use the latest DNA sequencing techniques and technologies to identify groups of microbes and then map their abundance and distribution. Faster and more readily available than ever before, these technologies are now also cheaper to access. In 2009 the cost of sequencing was $100 per sample. In 2013 it’s around $10 per sample.

Even so, such wide-scale DNA surveying is a relatively new method of cataloguing and understanding our environment, and it’s still a massive challenge when you consider one footprint in the soil covers around 10 trillion bacterial organisms, made up of tens of thousands of different species of bacteria.

Another example of UWA’s excellence in research.

MicroBlitz and the program’s citizen science methodology are considered the only truly effective means of determining what’s out there and how it influences our environment. It’s a unique initiative, but it’s also a typically progressive and community-focused UWA project.

Recognised internationally for its excellence in teaching and research, the University of Western Australia is a leading intellectual and creative resource for the communities it serves. UWA is responsible for almost 70 per cent of university-based research in Western Australia, attracting researchers of international standing to its numerous research centres.

     

Find out more about UWA and our home at the School of Earth and Environment, or learn more about the exciting MicroBlitz program, whether you want to meet our team or join them and become a MicroBlitzer.

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