A new phase of the highly successful crowdsourced citizen science campaign from Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron, dubbed “Science Scribbler” was launched on Saturday 9 November to coincide with World Science Day. This project investigates protein misfolding disorders such as Huntington’s disease, to help understand their progression and effect on cells, inviting citizen scientists to look at scientific data sets to help annotate what is in the imagery.
Dr Mark Basham, Research Fellow at Diamond Light Source, who leads the project says that solving 21st century global challenges with scientific innovations is Diamond’s mission, so it often champions new methods of advancing scientific progress and this is a great example. He explains: “The first phase of the citizen science project saw thousands of keen citizen scientists help to annotate organelles within cells that have been imaged using Cryo Soft X-ray Tomography (cryoSXT) on the B24 beamline – a technique that allows researchers to image whole cells in order to see the substructures within them. We got lots of great data in the first phase, so in order to help train our systems, and answer the biological questions on protein misfolding disorders, this new project will help to clean up the available data.”
Michele Darrow, from TTP Labtech, and a Diamond Visiting Scientist and coIlaborator on the Wellcome project adds, “Ultimately, the aim of this project is to better understand protein misfolding disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease, where a protein takes an abnormal structure and loses its normal cellular function, which can lead to manifestations of the disease. This project tests the hypothesis that the presence of Huntington protein aggregates leads to structural changes in the cell, which can be understood by analysing cryoSXT images. The initial workflow had users annotate the raw data, and now the raw data from this workflow needs to be cleaned up. This current phase builds on the first Science Scribbler project. Crowdsourced efforts here will help improve both the understanding of Huntington’s Disease, and will help to improve ways of analysing scientific data faster.'
Professor Dave Stuart FRS, MRC Professor of Structural Biology at the University of Oxford and Life Sciences Director at Diamond Light Source concludes: “Using the power of crowdsourced knowledge and everyday citizens passion for scientific progress, this project is allowing researchers to take big leaps in learning, training artificial intelligence systems, improving data analysis, and more. By using synchrotron science, and cryoSXT imagery, we are aiming to advance our understanding of protein misfolding disorders.”
More tasks will be set by Citizen Scientists for other targets over the next three years. This will help train Artificial Intelligence systems (AI) and develop new ways of segmenting data, with the aim to automate the data segmentation processes. Doing this will dramatically speed up scientists’ ability to understand their research data in a matter of days rather than the current weeks, allowing for a faster path to understanding disease structures, and perhaps speeding up pathways to drug development. The Diamond “Science Scribbler Project”, invites members of the public to get involved. It is funded by the world’s biggest biomedical charity, the Wellcome Trust and being developed in collaboration with Zooniverse, the renowned citizen science web platform.