Wolfpack Citizen Science Challenge Spring 2018

On our campus there lives a microbe that can poop gold…
we just don’t know where it is.

It almost certainly sounds made up, but it isn’t. A bacterial species of the genus Delftia can precipitate gold out of solution. We know the genes that Delftia uses to accomplish this incredible feat. But here is the rub—we don’t really have a clue where Delftia lives, how many species of Delftia there might be, or how important this gold pooping power is for Delftia. To answer these questions, we first had to find Delftia. We needed broad samples from across campus, including creative samples we might not, on our own, even think to take. That’s why we needed your help!

The Project

Volunteers in teams obtained kits from the library and took samples around campus. Those samples went to the NCSU Biotechnology Program, where the DNA was extracted and we targeted the gold pooping gene to identify Delftia from all the other microbes in the sample. All that DNA extracting and reaction setup was a lot of work, and that’s where a special volunteer came in—the BitBot! The BitBot is a specialized robot that students in Dr. Carlos Goller’s high-throughput discovery class programed to detect Delftia. Then we took the samples with the most Delftia and sequenced a portion of the gold genes at the Genomic Sciences Laboratory on campus. Once we had those sequences, the NCSU Libraries lead a bioinformatics workshop where participants conducted BLAST analyses on the sequences.

The Results Are In!

Thanks to our incredible volunteers we were able to collect over 200 samples from all over campus. And we found Delfitia! We found lots of Delftia! Did you find Delftia? Check out our Tableau Map to find out, and to discover where other people found Delftia!

This was a big project and we had a lot of help from people all across our amazing campus, but we wouldn’t have been able to complete a project like this so quickly without the very special help of the Bit Bot. Check out the short video below to see it in action!

Once all the sampling and processing and sequencing was done we finally had some robust data to help us answer our questions – where is Delftia, and is there variation in wild Delftia’s ability to precipitate gold? At the NCSU Libraries bioinformatic workshop participants from all across campus used these newly discovered genetic sequences to gain a better understanding of the variability of Delftia’s Gold Gene. Using the NCBI BLAST analysis tool we were able to determine that there was indeed an extraordinary level of genetic variation, and that some of the sequences we discovered were most closely related to Delftia tsuruhatensis, the “cousin” of Delftia acidovorans. Some of our samples were more closely related to each other than any previously knows species or strains, raising the possibility that there’s a comple