02 November 2016

New crowdfunding campaign puts penguins under the microscope

AUSTRALIA – With more than half of the world’s penguin species under threat from extinction, a new Deakin University research project is seeking to investigate the role of microbes in penguin health, physiology and disease.

Researcher from Deakin University’s Centre for Integrative Ecology within the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Dr Meagan Dewar, hopes to build knowledge about the basic biology of penguins.

More importantly, she also hopes to gain detailed data about the importance of microbes to penguins' digestion, metabolism, immune system and overall health.

“Many scientists consider penguins to be a sentinel for ocean health, providing valuable information about the health and productivity of our marine ecosystems,” Dr Dewar said.

“If penguins are sentinels for ocean health, then microbes could be considered as sentinels for penguin health.”

But little was known about the microbes that colonise the guts of penguins – a crucial factor in penguin health, she said.

“We don’t know enough about the crucial role that microbes play in penguin health, nutrition and physiology and this lack of information about what’s considered to be ‘normal’ and what is actually ‘pathogenic’ hampers our ability to diagnose disease in penguins in the wild.

“If we’re going to truly understand what organisms cause disease in penguins and how microbes affect penguin health and survival, then we need to know what organisms are naturally occurring and what factors influence their presence.”

But Dr Dewar and her research team first needs to raise $10,000 to fund the metagenome sequencing of the microbes of 42 individual penguins from four Australian and sub-Antarctic penguin species – king, gentoo, macaroni and little penguins.

They are embarking on a Penguin Microbes crowdfunding campaign through Pozible to help their cause.

Dr Dewar said the project would build knowledge about the basic biology of penguins and provide vital data on penguin microbes and their role in penguin health, physiology and disease.

“This research will provide vital baseline information on the functional role of microbes in penguins and give us a better understanding of the impact of environmental change and disease,” she said.

Dr Dewar encouraged fans of these charismatic animals to consider contributing to the crowdfunding campaign.

“Funding for this type of time consuming and meticulous work can be difficult to find, which is why we’ve turned to crowdfunding,” Dr Dewar said.

“We really need the help of any members of the public who are concerned about the ocean environment and love penguins to come together and support the campaign.”

Source
New crowdfunding campaign puts penguins under the microscope [media release], 27 October 2016, Deakin University

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