Science Caturday: Introducing KittyBiome


Scientists have made huge strides in understanding the human microbiome, and now they’re ready to move on to more advanced creatures – cats. A crack team* of microbiologists headed by Jonathan Eisen, Jennifer Gardy, Holly Ganz and Jack Gilbert** just launched KittyBiome, a citizen science project that aims to understand “how microbiomes differ among cats, whether those differences reveal insights into cat behavior and biology, and how the kitty microbiome depends on and may shape the health of your cat.”


Among the questions they plan to address are:

  • How do grumpy cats compare to happy cats?
  • How do athletic cats compare to couch potato cats?
  • Does it matter if you feed your cat a paleo-mouse diet?
  • How do indoor and outdoor cats compare?

They reckon the answers are in the poop.  For a $99 donation to the KittyBiome Kickstarter, any cat owner can send in a fecal sample and answer a few questions about his or her cat’s health and diet. The researchers then sequence the DNA of the bacteria in the sample and, after a few weeks, share the type and concentration of the bacteria online. Participants (or their hoomins) can even compare their microbiomes to those of other cats, including some “celebrity kitties.”

Don’t have a cat of your own? For just a $25 donation, the researchers will sequence the microbiome of a shelter kitty. KittyBiome plans to expand beyond housecats, too – a pledge of $149 or more allows donors to see the microbiome profile of a wild cheetah, leopard, puma, or lion.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the other awesome perks the KittyBiome team is offering – they include a cool illustrated book about bacteria by Jennifer Gardy and an exclusive Kitty Microbe scarf, designed by me.

IMG_20150310_151124-2 (1)

*Extra points for refraining from using the word “buttcrack”

**Noted dog person

For more information and microbiology-related lolcats, you can follow @KittyBiome on Twitter

Science for the People: Secure Communications

sftp-square-fistonly-whitebgThis week, Science for the People is looking at technology for keeping secrets safe from prying eyes and ears. We’re joined by Dan Younger, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Waterloo, to discuss the remarkable work of his colleague Bill Tutte, who broke the German Lorenz Code during World War II. We’ll also discuss the cutting edge of quantum security with Physics and Computer Science Professor Shohini Ghose.

*Josh provides research & social media help to Science for the People and is, therefore, completely biased.

Art of Science: Send Me to the Arctic, for Science and Art

Help support my art-science residency in Finland and this Reindeer Moss could be yours.

Help support my art-science residency in Finland and this Reindeer Moss could be yours.

I have been writing about the intersection of science and art here at The Finch & Pea for the past 3 years. I’ve been painting cells, bacteria, viruses and more for even longer, but I’ve never had the opportunity to work with real scientists in a lab – until now! I’ve been selected to be the Artist-in-Residence at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in Finland in October and November 2015.

This is Kilpisjärvi. Photo by Tea Karvinen

This is Kilpisjärvi. Photo by Tea Karvinen

I’m very excited about this opportunity and I’m asking for your help to make it happen. I just launched an Indiegogo campaign to help pay my expenses for this amazing experience.

Installation view of Culture Dishes at AAAS, 2014

Installation view of Culture Dishes at AAAS, 2014

The Ars Bioarctica Residency Program is a joint project of the Finnish Bioart Society and Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in sub-Arctic Lapland. The residency has an emphasis on the Arctic environment and art-science collaboration. I’ll have access to the station’s lab and equipment and I’ll be working side-by-side with scientists conducting research on vegetation, local fauna, and soil chemistry. izzyscarffinland2Kilpisjärvi’s location near the Arctic Circle puts it on the front lines of climate change, a subject of much of my recent art.

Like most art residencies, this one is unfunded. I hope to raise enough money through Indiegogo to cover my travel and room and board and to buy some art supplies. To thank you for your support, I’ve come up with an array of amazing perks, including a scarf and print based on Reindeer Moss, a lichen native to the region.

There’s lots more information about the residency on my Indiegogo page. Please look, click, spread the word, and support sciart!

UPDATE: As of 5pm on May 14, this project is fully funded! Thank you so much for your support.

Musicians and scientists

Can you name a “musisci” – a person involved in both music and science? This was a question I asked over seven hundred people in a survey, and the answer looked like this:musisci

Without the top five answers, you can more clearly see some of the other ones:


As you can see, there are a lot of people who have both music and science in their life, and this includes about a third of survey respondents, as well.

Survey responses musisci.007

For the full results of the survey, see my blog post on I’m also starting a quarterly newsletter about the musician/scientist overlap. First issue will go out today (with more survey results, some music, and related links), and the next one in August. You can sign up here if you’d like to receive it.

The Missing, Female History of STEM

Chief Technology Officer of the United States Megan Smith discusses the problems of erasing women from the history of science and technology with Charlie Rose. It is not that the historical role models for young women don’t exist. It is that we actively expunge them from our narratives.
As Rose suggests with a question, it is hard to imagine how this practice actually benefits anyone – other than an intellectually lazy adherence to our standard, male-centric narrative.

HT: Caroline Siede at BoingBoing.