Kentucky Wesleyan College students join international quest to discover new antibiotics from soil bacteria

Students at Kentucky Wesleyan College, in partnership with students from more than 200 participating schools across 44 states, Puerto Rico and 14 countries, are joining the crowdsourcing effort established by the University of Wisconsin-based Tiny Earth network to address the worldwide health crisis of antibiotic-resistant infections. Students will gain hands-on research experience in General Biology II and Medical Microbiology courses, led by Professor Kevin Horn and Dr. Rachel Pritchard.

“I’m so excited to give Kentucky Wesleyan College students the opportunity to participate,” said Dr. Pritchard, an assistant professor of biology who will be overseeing the project during the upcoming spring semester. “This significant opportunity allows students to collaborate and experience an authentic research project to address the antibiotic crisis our healthcare system faces today. Student findings could lead to saved lives.”

According to the Tiny Earth network, a diminishing supply of antibiotics to treat the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections has created a critical worldwide health crisis and only a few new classes of antibiotics have been developed since the 1970s. A Tiny Earth media release states that most pharmaceutical companies have abandoned the search for new antibiotics as a result of dwindling profit margins and long timelines for FDA approval.

To combat the antibiotic resistance crisis, scientists have united in a global effort to discover novel antibiotics by examining soil microorganisms collected from a variety of local environments. Many of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics were discovered from “dirt.” Soil microbes produce two key antibiotics, penicillin and vancomycin. A single handful of soil contains more living organisms than the number of people on the planet.

This international collaboration harnesses the collective power of student researchers across the globe to discover new antibiotics from soil microorganisms. Tiny Earth is an ambitious and innovative project that allows students to address a real-world problem. Students will experience a sense of ownership of their discoveries because the soil is from their local environment in a site of their choosing. Participants also gain a valuable sense of belonging to the greater scientific community. Research indicates that students who engage in authentic research experiences are more likely to pursue and persist in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

For more information and questions about the Tiny Earth Project at Kentucky Wesleyan College, contact Dr. Rachel Pritchard at [email protected] or (270) 852-3145. Follow the quest for antibiotics via the Kentucky Wesleyan Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Facebook page at facebook.com/KWCScience. More information is also available at tinyearth.wisc.edu.