NASA has proven adept at crowdsourcing — it leverages the exuberance and talents of students to build nanosatellites or to participate in lunar plant growth. Now, NASA has other crowdsourcing plans — ones that involve biology rather than cosmology. Josiah Zayner, a NASA synthetic biology fellow, wants to leverage the public to provide greater efficiency when it comes to developing antibiotics.
To that end, Zayner and a neurobiologist colleague have launched The International Laboratory for the Identification of New Drugs, otherwise known as the ILIAD project. Think SETI, except instead of users trying to crunch data about potential alien life at home, they’ll be part of a “Massively Multi-Scientist Open Experiment” in which they tap into their inner mad scientist by examining and testing plant and insect specimens to help identify their antibiotics. Many antibiotics are derived from naturally occurring organisms such as fungi, plants, and herbs, so it’s a perfect way to get citizens involved.