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La Salle joins Tiny Earth network to student-source new antibiotics


La Salle University is joining the push to mitigate one of the most critical public health crises facing the world: antibiotic resistance. And they’re doing it with other students across the country from the Tiny Earth network.

There is a diminishing supply of antibiotics to treat the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. This worldwide health crisis is extremely concerning given that the current arsenal of antibiotics is proving to be less and less effective, and only a few new classes of antibiotics have been created since the 1970s: 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 since many of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics were discovered from “dirt.” Soil microbes produce two key antibiotics, Penicillin and vancomycin, and a single handful of soil contains more living organisms than there are people on our planet.

Students at La Salle, along with students from more than 200 participating schools across 44 U.S. 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 freshman Cellular Biology and Genetics course to address the worldwide health crisis of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. 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.

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.

Alison Knowles, a student in the course remarked, “unlike a typical laboratory, we are doing actual research and have the opportunity to make genuine scientific discoveries. It’s exciting because our research really matters and we have the potential to impact a big, real-world problem.”