CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Officials with West Texas A&M University announced that students at the university will participate in a global effort to find new antibiotics as a way of teaching microbiology.

Officials detailed that the students will join Tiny Earth, in which “traditional laboratory experiences in introductory science classes are converted into discovery-based research exercises.” The Tiny Earth curriculum will be offered in the BIOL 2420 Applied Microbiology course in the fall.

“Most science-class laboratories are based on the traditional concepts of curriculum, which is important,” said Maitreyee Mukherjee, assistant professor of biology in the Department of Life, Earth and Environmental Sciences in WT’s Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences. “But adopting the Tiny Earth curriculum will enhance that experience by incorporating research-based laboratory experiences.”  

Officials further explained that students in Mukherjee’s class will go around the WT campus and the Texas Panhandle and dig their own soil samples to analyze.

Students, according to officials, will experience cutting-edge molecular methods, DNA sequencing, and informatics techniques along with the traditional methods taught in the microbiology lab, Mukherjee said in a release from WT.

According to Tiny Earth’s mission, they want to inspire and retain students in the sciences while addressing one of the global health challenges in the century, which is the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics.

“A lot of the antibiotics currently in use have been discovered in a similar fashion, but we don’t do that anymore,” said Mukherjee. “Not many new antibiotics have been discovered in the last 30 years because there’s less profit in discovering new ones.

According to the release, harmful bacteria in humans have become increasingly more difficult to treat as the bacteria becomes resistant to treatments that are designed to kill them. “We, as scientists, need to find an alternative to find more antibiotics so that we can face this crisis as soon as possible,” said Mukherjee.

“Our students will have the opportunity to actively add to the body of knowledge we need to be able to combat the global issue of reduced drug effectiveness,” Mukherjee said. “This innovative program will raise WT’s national visibility and standing, will attract students who are looking for the opportunity to engage in hands-on research, and has the potential to increase external funding.”

After students dissect their discoveries in the dirt, the results will be recorded in the Tiny Earth database which will assist in the antibiotic discovery.

Tiny Earth was created by Jo Handelsman, Vilas Research Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who founded a course at Yale University in 2012 to address the antibiotic crisis and the shortage of science trainees which then evolved into the Initiative.

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