Project to sprout legume diversity wins EU citizen science prize

12 Jun 2024

Image: © andriigorulko/Stock.adobe.com

From tools to improve agricultural diversity in Europe to collecting data on marine plastic pollution across the Mediterranean, here are the winners of this year’s EU citizen science competition.

A project aimed at improving agricultural diversity in Europe and addressing food security challenges has been awarded the European Union Prize for Citizen Science today (12 June).

Started by Kerstin Neumann of Germany and Roberto Papa of Italy, the project is called INCREASE (Intelligent Collections of Food-Legume Genetic Resources for European Agrofood Systems). It aims to develop tools that can help conserve and improve agricultural biodiversity in Europe – specifically focusing on legumes.

Legumes play an important role in plant-based diets and INCREASE wants to make plant genetic resources related to legumes, which are currently stored exclusively in gene banks, accessible to the broader public.

“The project has implemented a participatory research model with various levels of engagement tailored to accommodate participants’ diverse levels of expertise,” a statement from the competition’s jury reads. “Its extensive cooperation across countries, the involvement of citizens from different regions, and engagement with regional platforms emphasise its European dimension and importance.”

While INCREASE bagged the grand prize of €60,000, two other projects were awarded €20,000 each under two EU citizen science categories: digital communities, and diversity and collaboration.

The digital communities award went to Spain’s OpenSystems group for its CoAct for Mental Health campaign, which found ways to include people with mental health problems in research that directly impacts their lives.

“This project allows citizens to play an active role in research that directly impacts their lives and harnesses the power of technology to include marginalised voices as active participants in the transformation of mental healthcare,” the jury wrote.

“Technology in this case facilitates the participation of citizens in developing a personalised approach to healthcare and medicine.”

Meanwhile, the diversity and collaboration award went to SeaPaCS, a joint British and Italian project which collects data on plastic pollution in the oceans to develop sustainable counterstrategies. The idea is to raise awareness about marine plastic pollution in the Mediterranean and work together to find long-term solutions.

“SeaPaCS is especially exemplary for centring a community-led grassroots approach and for its attention to overcoming extractive tendencies in citizen science (citizens as ‘sensors’), by involving citizens beyond plastic sampling and data collection in activities,” the jury wrote.

“[These activities include] plastisphere DNA analysis, documenting underwater ecological niches, creating photo and video exhibitions, testing DIY microplastic trawling instruments, and building marine plastic recycling stations.”

Many of the world’s most famous discoveries and breakthroughs have been made by citizen scientists. Professional scientists often rely on and collaborate with lay scientists, particularly when it comes to solving problems. In the past, citizen scientists in Ireland have been called on to help with projects ranging from red squirrel revivals to air quality monitoring.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com