"It's a great example of using citizen science to ask questions about the ecology of infectious disease," says Katharine Walter, an epidemiologist at Stanford University who has studied the prevalence and spread of tick-borne diseases. Walter, who did not participate in the research, says that a longer-term project could yield real insights not just into disease, but climate change and human impacts on their environment.
"That's the power of science," says Walter. "I really believe that scientific research shouldn't be just for scientists."
The study's authors admit there are some real limitations to their work. They didn't find out if and where people had traveled before they found the ticks. Since ticks can hang out on the body for days, they could have traveled along with people or animals on the move and resulted in misreporting. Nieto says his team didn't ask for the data out of privacy concerns and a desire to encourage participation.
Another limitation is that people who never hear about a citizen science initiative can't participate, and the study wasn't advertised beyond an initial PR campaign conducted by the Bay Area Lyme Foundation, which funded the project. Socioeconomic barriers to the internet may also have limited participants, and there's no way to verify how many participants misreported information about the ticks that bit them.
What's next for the tick collectors? First, says Nieto, they'll dig deeper into the ticks' DNA, and hopefully open up another wave of free tick analysis in an attempt to broaden the data even more. From there, says Nieto, it's up to others to use the dataset for good.
"We have this information," he says. "Now we need some technology or changes in behavior that are going to help us actually prevent infection."
Source : https://www.kqed.org/futureofyou/443339/researchers-study-thousands-of-ticks-collected-by-the-people-they-bit317