LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Thousands of students around the world are mining the soil under our feet, looking for bacteria that produce new life-saving antibiotics that the world desperately needs right now, experts say.
The students are part of the Tiny Earth project, a global network of educators who teach a research course aimed at discovering new antibiotics that started in June of 2018. It now includes 10,000 students from 300 universities and colleges.
For the past 14 weeks, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay students like Carolyn LaTour have been looking through soil samples searching for bacteria strong enough to beat diseases that have become resistant to antibiotics.
“Discovering new and different antibiotics will definitely help the medical field a lot,” she tells CBS affiliate WFRV.
LaTour’s professor, Brian Merkel, says the work his students are doing is vital because, according to the Centers for Disease Control, each year at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection and more than 35,000 people die.
“There are infections caused by bacteria from which nothing on the shelf works anymore,” said LaTour’s professor, Brian Merkel.
UW-Green Bay students helping in worldwide effort to develop new antibiotics https://t.co/P8oSqK3jon
— WFRV Local 5 (@WFRVLocal5) December 8, 2020
“If we don’t find new antibiotics that work against these bacteria that are evolving resistance, simple things like scratches can kill a person,” student Bailey Rose Brosig told WFRV last year.
The students collect soil samples from a variety of spots; compost piles, at their family home and in LaTour’s case.
“Right off the shore of Lake Michigan in a forest, a very dense forest,” LaTour said.
“They’re on a fishing expedition, and the more we look, the more of us that do that, the greater chance we’re going to strike gold,” said Merkel.
“It’s so cool that we as students can contribute to antibiotic research,” said LaTour.
Merkel says the program also puts his students on the path to pursue science careers.
“There is a lot of excitement and we’re really excited to see where this goes,” Merkel said.