Tweenome on Film: Excellent Video on Crowdsourcing Killer Outbreaks


The BBSRC has just released an excellent video and article on crowdsourcing killer disease outbreaks very relevant to our recent commentary and blog postings on the OpenAshDB (the Ash Dieback disease crowdsourcing) project. Featuring interviews from Nick Loman and Lisa Crossman (also an author on our OpenAshDB paper), key contributors to the 2011 E. coli O104:H4 outbreak genome crowdsourcing effort, it gives a very good overview of the how our initial release of public domain genomic data via twitter helped kick-start a burst of crowd-sourced, curiosity-driven analyses around the world aimed at understanding and fighting the outbreak.

We have written a lot about this twitter driven “tweenome” analysis in the past, but this video and article tries to learn lessons from the E. coli project and use these experiences for the related effort to tackle the devastating spread of Ash Dieback disease in Europe. Since the publication of the OpenAshDB paper (currently our most viewed article this month), further analyses and data continues to be added to the GitHub based repository, including geospatial data and new secretome predictions. The BBSRC is taking a big interest in the potential of this method of potentially speeding up research practices, with the recent announcement of funding for up to £2M proposals to develop and deploy crowdsourcing approaches to complex, large-scale scientific problems. Further interesting viewing on this subject include Mark Pallen’s excellent talks on open-source genomics, and the brilliant TEDx talk by Jennifer Gardy on 21st century public health. This talk was extremely prescient in 2009, and highlighted early efforts using wiki based resources for tackling that years H1N1 influenza pandemic.

As the cost of and speed of sequencing continues to drop, these early examples hopefully will inspire and encourage what our editorial board member Mike Schatz terms in another recent GigaScience commentary: the rise of a “digital immune system”, by observing the microbial landscape, detecting potential threats, and neutralizing them before they spread beyond control. The ultimate aim of these projects is to shape the way we tackle future infectious disease outbreaks, speeding up the response to such an extent we potentially stop these outbreaks before they even happen. These are laudable goals and a fantastic example of what can be enabled by open-science, and GigaScience will continue to do what we can to help promote and encourage such schemes in the future.

Further Reading
1. MacLean, D; et al., Crowdsourcing genomic analyses of ash and ash dieback — power to the people. GigaScience 2013, 2:2
2. OpenAshDB Website:
3. Schatz, MC & Phillippy, AM The rise of a digital immune system. GigaScience 2012, 1:4

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