Newswise — Sacramento State is joining the push to mitigate one of the world’s most critical public health crises: antibiotic resistance.

Worldwide, there is a diminishing supply of antibiotics to treat the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. This critical  health crisis elicits concern considering that the effectiveness of the current arsenal of antibiotics is decreasing, and few new classes of antibiotics have been created since the 1970s.

Further, dwindling profit margins and long waits for Food and Drug Administration approval has led to most pharmaceutical companies abandoning the search for new antibiotics.

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.

Why soil? Many of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics were discovered from “dirt.” Soil microbes produce two key antibiotics: penicillin and vancomycin. In fact, a single handful of soil contains more living organisms than there are people on our planet. 

Students at Sacramento State, with students from 170 participating schools across 35 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and 12 countries, are part of the crowdsourcing effort established by the Small World Initiative (SWI). The students gain hands-on research experience in the Biology 145: Diversity of Microorganisms course to address the worldwide health crisis of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

This international collaboration harnesses the collective power of student researchers worldwide to discover new antibiotics from soil microorganisms. SWI is a project that allows students to engage in authentic research to address a real-world problem. Educators say 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. 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.

Contact Enid Gonzalez-Orta with questions about Biology 145: Diversity of Microorganisms. Follow the quest for antibiotics via Twitter and Instagram @SacState_SWI. More information is available at smallworldinitiative.wisc.edu.