Funds raised through Walacea, the UK’s first science crowdfunding platform, will allow scientists to use approaches to unlock the 2,000 year mystery of Aloe vera and enable assessments of the potential of hundreds of other aloes for local industries in the future.
If the £7,000 target of Kew’s inaugural crowdfund is secured, Kew scientists will be able to confirm the identity of the closest relatives of the plant for the first time in history. Kew scientists hope to conduct DNA sequencing, by extracting a sample of DNA from the tissue of an aloe leaf grown at Kew, which will then be ‘read’ through a sequencer, resulting in millions of letters of DNA ‘code’ and the largest ever dataset of DNA sequences for aloes. This will allow scientists to build a robust family tree highlighting the relationships between Aloe vera and its wild relatives.
The data collected will enable scientists to scrutinise the popularity of Aloe vera over hundreds of related aloes and determine why it was chosen by people in the first place. It will also allow Kew scientists to establish whether Aloe vera is unique in the beneficial properties for which it is famous, or if other species of aloes and succulents share these properties.
Antony Berry, Principal Gifts Manager at Kew Foundation said: "We are going beyond the garden walls with this project, highlighting the importance of plants for people. Supporters of this campaign will be able to engage directly with Olwen’s research, opening up Kew in a way that is not commonly seen, participating in Kew’s groundbreaking science. This way of fundraising is novel for Kew and one which we hope will engage the public in our work more directly, showing the practical application of what we do in unlocking why plants and fungi matter."
Dr Olwen Grace, scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew said: "The funding for this research will go beyond solving a botanical mystery. Understanding the relationships between aloes and the unique properties of Aloe vera will allow us to share information with people who rely on these plants for their livelihoods, to unlock the potential natural capital of cultivating Aloe vera and other local species for similar purposes."
The crowdfunding campaign is hosted by the science funding platform Walacea.com and will run for 30 days from 4 July to 3 August 2016. The target is £7,000.