Skip Navigation
OU Public Affairs WebsiteThe University of OklahomaPublic Affairs

OU Natural Products Discovery Group Asks for Public's Help with Citizen Science Program Crowdsourcing Engages the Public in the Scientific Process and Enhances Drug Discovery Efforts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

11-6-13

CONTACT: Jana Smith, Director of Strategic Communications for R&D, (405) 325-1322, jana.smith@ou.edu

NORMAN — The University of Oklahoma Natural Products Discovery Group has taken an unconventional approach to finding new compounds with therapeutic relevance by launching a crowdsourcing initiative with citizen scientists from around the country. With this approach, OU researchers team with the public to sample soils from all across the United States for the purpose of identifying new microorganisms that produce drug-like compounds. This effort recently led to the discovery of maximiscin, a unique bioactive compound obtained from a soil sample submitted by an Alaskan citizen, which has shown early promising results by stopping the growth of melanoma cells in vivo.

“The exciting part of this discovery is that a citizen scientist participated in our program and sent us this sample,” says Robert H. Cichewicz, associate professor in the OU College of Arts and Sciences and director of the National Products Institute. “We probably would not have discovered this compound without the Citizen Science Program.” Cichewicz is collaborating on the project with S.L. Mooberry, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; A.N. Miller, University of Illinois; and L. Du, J.B. King and E.R. Powell, OU Natural Products Discovery Group.

“In the next phase of this research, we need to learn more about the molecule to see how it functions and how we can make it better,” Cichewicz explains. “We have to take this bioactive compound from a discovery to a lead compound and, fortunately, OU recently invested in expanding these efforts with the establishment of the new Institutes for Natural Products Applications and Research Technologies.” This new center, housed in the Stephenson Life Sciences Research Center on the OU Research Campus, is bringing together researchers from several different disciplines to collaborate on drug target discovery from natural sources.”

During the last several years, the OU Natural Products Group has collected several thousand fungi from soil samples primarily obtained from three environmentally disparate regions: Alaska (artic/sub-arctic); Hawaii (tropical); and Oklahoma (subtropical/semi-arid). Despite these efforts, the team can only access a relatively slim portion of the available microbial diversity. This group predicts that a significant number of compounds with therapeutic potential await discovery from the untapped majority of the soils’ microbial inhabitants. For this reason, the Citizen Science Program is an important part of the discovery process. By teaming with citizen scientists, the public becomes an active participant in the search for new drugs.

“The public is very curious about science and many of the people I have spoken with are eager to join in the search for new bioactive compounds. With the public as part of the team, we are expanding the search for new medicinal agents to include many previously unexplored areas, as well as providing a means for informing people about how new drugs are discovered,” Cichewicz notes. “So far, results have been encouraging with samples arriving from as far away as California, Hawaii and Alaska. We are thrilled with the early response we have seen to this program, and we look forward to continuing our efforts with our citizen science partners from across the country.”

An article on this study was published in a recent issue of Angewandte Chemie. The project was supported by the National Institutes of Health. For more information about the OU Institutes for Natural Products Applications and Research Technologies, OU Natural Products Discovery Group or the Citizen Science Program, contact Robert H. Cichewicz at rhcichewicz@ou.edu or visit the websites at http://www.inpart.ou.edu or http://npdg.ou.ou.edu/citizenscience.

 2014  |  2013  |  2012  |  2011

April 2015

OU Commencement to Feature Cornell University President-Elect, Photo Highlights of Graduating Class and Music

Five OU Faculty Named Presidential Teaching Fellows in Joe C. and Carole Kerr McClendon Honors College

University of Oklahoma Professor, OU Alumna Receive Apple Distinguished Educator Awards 

OU Alumnus Named Special Assistant to the Vice President for the University Community

OU Designated Big 12 Conference Champion in EPA’s College and University Green Power Challenge

OU President David L. Boren Announces $30 Million in Gifts to Name College of Engineering and Establish New School of Biomedical Engineering

OU and Nanowave Technologies Inc. Enter into Research Agreement

Four OU Students Receive Boren Awards for International Study

2014-2015 OU President's Trophy Winners Announced

OU Engineering Professors among Nation's Best 'Young Investigators'

Oklahoma Water Survey Plans Water Reuse Workshops

OU Students to Serve Hispanic Communities During "Big Event" Day of Community Service

OU’s Donald W. Reynolds Performing Arts Center on List of Most Beautiful Conservatories, Schools of Music

Honorary Degree Recipients to be Honored at OU Commencement Friday, May 8

April 17 Dedication Ceremony Scheduled for Hester Hall, Home of OU College of International Studies

Cornell University President-Elect Elizabeth Garrett to Deliver OU's 2015 Commencement Address

Gary England to Lead New Severe Weather Series Featured on OU's Janux Platform

Two OU Students Receive Goldwater Honors

OU Physicists First to Create New Molecule with Record-Setting Dipole Moment

OU Makes History with Record-Setting Number of Freshman National Merit Scholars

For requests for past releases, please contact OU Public Affairs at (405) 325-1701 or publicaffairs@ou.edu.