BC students to help discover new antibiotics from soil bacteria

BC students to help discover new antibiotics from soil bacteria

Wed Aug 1, 2018

A Brazosport College professor and his students are joining the push to mitigate a critical public health crises that faces the world: antibiotic resistance.

Brazosport College Math and Science faculty member Kevin Spring, Ph.D, recently took part in a week-long training to become a partner instructor in the Tiny Earth network with a two-fold mission: to encourage students to pursue careers in science through real-world applicable laboratory and field research in introductory courses, and to address a worldwide health threat — the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics — by tapping into the collective power of many student researchers concurrently tackling the same challenge.

“There is a diminishing supply of antibiotics to treat the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections,” Spring said. “This critical worldwide health crisis is extremely concerning given that our current arsenal of antibiotics is proving to be rather useless, and only a few new classes of antibiotics have been created since the 1970’s. In fact, most pharmaceutical companies have abandoned the search for new antibiotics as a result of dwindling profit margins and long timelines for FDA-approval.”

In an effort 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,’” Spring said. “Soil microbes produce two key antibiotics, Penicillin and vancomycin. Imagine, a single handful of soil contains more living organisms than there are people on our planet.”

Students at Brazosport College, along with students from more than 200 participating schools across 44 states, Puerto Rico and 14 countries, are a part of the crowdsourcing effort established by the University of Wisconsin-based Tiny Earth network. The students gain hands-on research experience in the microbiology laboratory course to address the worldwide health crisis of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. Spring was able to implement his curriculum with the assistance of a Gator Grant.

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 engage in authentic research to address a real-world problem.

“Students feel a sense of ownership of their discoveries because the soil is from their local environment, at a site of their choosing, and they also feel a sense of belonging in the greater scientific community,” Spring said. “Research has shown 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 about the microbiology laboratory, contact Spring at (979) 230-3523 or at kevin.spring@brazosport.edu. More information about the quest for antibiotics is available at tinyearth.wisc.edu. Tiny Earth can also be followed on Twitter @TinyEarthNet.