Crowd funding for UC furry research

Crowd funding for UC furry research

Claudia Doman

18 June 2013: A University of Canberra researcher is making history with the capital’s first example of crowd funding to finance academic research: her project to investigate a cute species of furry marsupials.

Clare Holleley, postdoctoral fellow in genetics at the University’s Institute for Applied Ecology, has tapped into this innovative funding resource to finance her genetics project on sugar gliders, arguably one of the world’s cutest species.

sugar glider

Sugar gliders are the focus of a UC genetics research project financed by crowd funding. Photo: Shelly Sterk

Crowd funding has been an increasingly popular way to raise money, usually for artistic projects. It operates by asking the public to contribute relatively modest amounts of money to get a project off the ground, but Dr Holleley believes her campaign is among the first of its kind to use crowd sourced funds for scientific research.

“We want to look into the genetic health of the US sugar glider population and its origins, but gene sequencing costs money and grants are hard to come by so we thought that we could probably help finance our project if we shared it with the community,” Dr Holleley said. “This seemed like the perfect project to try crowd sourcing. Who wouldn’t want to be involved in researching these cute little guys?”

Dr Holleley

Dr Clare Holleley at the lab. Photo: Michelle McAulay.

A $10 donation could fund the sequencing of one targeted gene in one animal, while a $100 donation would allow the researchers purchase chemicals that will extract and purify DNA for 50 animals.

In four weeks, Dr Holleley has raised over $3,200, which is just below halfway her goal of raising $8,200.

  • More information on the project and funding here.

Sugar gliders are small possum-type marsupials with large eyes and swivelling ears who live in trees, love eating nectarous foods and have an ability to glide through the air like flying squirrels.

The species is native to Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, but Dr Holleley explained that it has become a very popular exotic pet to keep in the US.

“There are about 1.1 million sugar gliders kept domestically as pets in the US,” she said. “We want to know the genetic diversity of the population, see if there are any population bottlenecks (coming from only one subspecies) and determine which subspecies of sugar glider founded this US population.

“It is almost certain that this population was founded by a very small number of individuals so we need to know whether there is any potential inbreeding or if there would be problems with the population down the track for a lack of diversity.”

This project is part of Dr Holleley’s larger work on comparative genomics of mammals and reptiles.

Listen to Dr Holleley talk about her research: