The science with the Smartphone

DreamLab, an app for iOS and Android developed by the Vodafone Italia Foundation with the AIRC Foundation for Cancer Research, which facilitates the work of researchers at the Institute of Molecular Oncology by providing the computing power of the smartphone in activity (transparent to the user) of computational genomics (statistical analysis on genome sequences).

Smartphone and app for citizen science

The application, already in use in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, uses smartphone downtime to perform operations on data downloaded automatically from the research institute’s databases during the night (with a smartphone in charge), when the power of calculation generally used for work, for the Internet, for games, etc., is unused.

DreamLab works only if the phone is idle, connected to an electrical network and connected to a mobile network or wi-fi: that’s when the app downloads small data packets, processes them and sends them back to the researchers who follow the Genome project in 3D. From a scientific point of view, the aim is to obtain an accurate three-dimensional map of DNA within the cell nucleus, to try to understand the interactions between genes; from a practical point of view, researchers seek personalized care (specifically) for breast cancer.

How is it possible that all the cells in our body contain essentially the same genome but perform very different functions? The Genome Project has provided us with a map of our DNA with many points (genes): the next step is to connect all the points, or understand the regulatory interactions between all the genes to really understand how the genome works.

With the use of a large number of mobile phones the calculation times are considerably reduced compared to what can be done with the equipment used by most laboratories. Researchers and technicians who have developed this  science solution have estimated that to complete even the first phase of the project would require 117,000 hours of uninterrupted work (24 hours a day) of a good computer with eight processors (cores), which is more or less 600 days, at best); for the same first phase of the project, entrusted to a distributed network of a thousand smartphones active 6 hours a night, the time would be reduced by thirty times. It’s just a comparison, but it serves to understand what can be done collectively, and in fact DreamLab has already been downloaded by 17,600 people and the number of processed and resolved data packets is about 3.5 million out of the total 70 million of the project.

Real-time lightning map
DreamLab is a free app and does not require registration. If you are not connected to a wi-fi network, the app involves data consumption (except for Vodafone customers), but everyone can choose how much mobile data to donate, from 50 to 500 MB: to have a idea, 250 MB is equivalent to 4 hours of streaming music.

SMARTPHONE AND ENVIRONMENT. Another fine example of citizen science comes from the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics (OGS) which proposes avvistAPP, an application for iOS and Android that allows you to report sightings of sea nuts, gelatinous organisms originating from the Atlantic coasts of America, similar in appearance to jellyfish, which are invading our seas, especially the Upper Adriatic area.

smartphone and app for citizen science
Sea nuts (Mnemiopsis leidyi): one of the 100 most harmful invasive species in the world, today also in the Adriatic.

Sea nut is an alien species (not native to the place where it is found) and invasive, that is problematic for the marine ecosystem, because it has no predators and feeds voraciously on eggs and larvae of fish and zooplankton: not by chance is included in the list of the 100 most harmful invasive species in the world. The app aims to collect data on sightings to map the spread of sea nut (just take a picture and share it through the system) and also allows you to report sightings of jellyfish, turtles and dolphins – to allow researchers to assess the health of our seas.

DATA AND PRIVACY. Neither DreamLab nor avvPAP – assure us – access the personal data of those who download and use them. With DreamLab, a Universal Unique Identifier (UUID) is assigned, an identification code that serves to uniquely correlate the smartphone with the data packet distribution center. For Android devices the system also stores the country of installation from the sim, so that DreamLab can automatically disable data transfer if you are roaming. For iOS the deactivation in case of roaming must instead be carried out manually.

For avvistAPP there is a registration: the app requires name, surname, e-mail and a password; the only data automatically detected is the position, from GPS, to avoid that the sharing of incorrect information can compromise the scientific results of the project.

 

Reviewer overview

The science with the Smartphone - /10

Summary

DreamLab, an app for iOS and Android developed by the Vodafone Italia Foundation with the AIRC Foundation for Cancer Research, which facilitates the work of researchers at the Institute of Molecular Oncology by providing the computing power of the smartphone

0 Bad!

19 Comments