Kefir4All, a citizen science initiative to raise awareness of the roles that microbes play in food fermentation
AuthorWalsh, Liam H.
Martin, José Guilherme Prado
O'Toole, Paul W.
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CitationWalsh, L.H., Breselge, S., Prado Martin, J.G., Coakley, M., Ferguson, E., Stapleton, A., Crispie, F., O’Toole, P.W. & Cotter, P.D. (2024) Kefir4All, a Citizen Science initiative to raise awareness of the roles that microbes play in food fermentation. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education. e00155-23, 3 Jan 2024. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.00155-23
AbstractMicroorganisms are ubiquitous in nature and are central to human, animal, environmental, and planetary health. They play a particularly important role in the food chain and the production of high-quality, safe, and health-promoting foods, especially fermented foods. This important role is not always apparent to members of the public. Here, we describe Kefir4All, a citizen science project designed to provide the general public with an opportunity to expand their awareness, knowledge, and practical skills relating to microbiology, introduced through the medium of producing fermented food, i.e., milk kefir or water kefir. During the course of Kefir4All, 123 citizen scientists, from second-level school and non-school settings, participated in a study to track changes in the microbial composition of kefirs, by performing and recording details of milk kefir or water kefir fermentations they performed in their homes or schools over the 21-week project. At the start of the study, the citizen scientists were provided with milk or water kefir grains to initiate the fermentations. Both types of kefir grain are semi-solid, gelatinous-like substances, composed of exopolysaccharides and proteins, containing a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast. The experimental component of the project was complemented by a number of education and outreach events, including career talks and a site visit to our research center (Kefir Day). At the end of the study, a report was provided to each citizen scientist, in which individualized results of their fermenting activities were detailed. A number of approaches were taken to obtain feedback and other insights from the citizen scientists. Evaluations took place before and after the Kefir4All project to gauge the citizen scientist’s self-reported awareness, knowledge, and interest in microbiology and fermented foods. Further insights into the level of citizen science participation were gained through assessing the number of samples returned for analysis and the level of participation of the citizen scientists throughout the project. Notably, the survey results revealed a self-reported, increased interest in, and general knowledge of, science among the Kefir4All citizen scientists after undertaking the project and a willingness to take part in further citizen science projects. Ultimately, Kefir4All represents an example of the successful integration of citizen science into existing education and research systems.
FunderEuropean Union; Science Foundation Ireland; Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Grant Number818368 (MASTER); SFI/12/RC/2273_P2; SFI/16/RC/3835 (VistaMilk SFI Research Centre)
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