UW-Green Bay students helping in worldwide effort to develop new antibiotics

Local News

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) College students at UW-Green Bay are helping in a worldwide effort to develop new life-saving antibiotics. As Kris Schuller reports the Tiny Earth project is out to help solve a growing crisis.

For the past 14 weeks college students at UWGB like Carolyn LaTour – have been looking through soil samples searching for bacteria which hopefully one day leads to new antibiotics.

“Discovering new and different antibiotics will definitely help the medical field a lot,” said LaTour.

LaTour and her classmates are participating in the Tiny Earth program. It’s an international effort involving 10,000 students from 300 colleges – all aimed at discovering new antibiotics by searching the ground under our feet.

“There are infections caused by bacteria from which nothing on the shelf works anymore,” said LaTour’s professor, Brian Merkel.

The students collected 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,” said LaTour.

“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.

Merkel says the work his students are doing is vital, because according to the CDC, each year at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection and more than 35,000 people die.

“They are playing a vital role in helping us identify antibiotics that the world needs desperately right now,” Merkel said.

Their findings are being included in a database at UW-Madison and will be discussed at a virtual symposium next week, instead of inside the Lambeau Field Atrium, as it has in the past.

“It’s so cool that we as students can contribute to antibiotic research,” said LaTour.

“There is a lot of excitement and we’re really excited to see where this goes,” Merkel said.

Merkel says the program also puts his students on the path to pursue STEM careers.

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