Today I went on a hike on the Nipmuck trail near the Yale Forest in Connecticut to collect soil for an exciting new microbial ecology lab I am teaching.
The course is called Microbe Hunting: Crowd-sourcing the discovery antibiotics and is part of the Small World Initiative. The Small World Initiative or SWI was designed by a group at Yale University and is an effort to crowdsource the discovery of novel antibiotics to address escalating problem of antibiotic resistance through undergraduate research.
What is different about this course as compared with any other undergraduate lab course is that the students will drive their own research. They will keep lab notebooks, present their data in poster format at the end of the semester, and the data produced across many universities across the country will be compiled and lead to “real” publications. This same crowdsourcing model has been implemented successfully in other initiatives, such as the SEA-PHAGES project started by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute where students isolate and sequence undiscovered bacteriophages.
So I went on my own winter field trip in order to make a presentation demonstrating how to collect samples, what sorts of things to think about when selecting a sample site, and what information to collect. Hopefully we can isolate some species that produce antibiotics and produce robust biofilms!