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  • Writer's pictureEnid Gonzalez-Orta

The Tiny Earth Project and How It Has Affected Me by Alex C.


Student looking at specimens in the lab
Alex C looking at his specimens in the lab

The Tiny Earth Project is described as “a Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) developed in 2012 by Professor Jo Handelsman and has the simultaneous goals of discovering new antibiotics from soil bacteria and increasing the persistence of diverse students in STEM”(1). It is a project that has students take soil samples from different locations on campus, and during covid from their own backyards or different locations, and perform different tests on the bacteria that live in the soil. The students are testing for something called antibiotic producers. Antibiotic producers are bacteria that make chemicals that can kill other bacteria. Not all bacteria are the same; they have their own species, just like mammals. The bacteria developed these chemicals over time to protect themselves from other bacteria or help certain bacteria that can help them back. An addition to the latter would be killing a different bacteria that would harm a bacterial friend. There can be so many reasons as to why bacteria make these chemicals, but we know now and have known for a long time. In 1928 when a scientist named Alexander Fleming “began a series of experiments involving the common staphylococcal bacteria. An uncovered Petri dish sitting next to an open window became contaminated with mold spores. Fleming observed that the bacteria in proximity to the mold colonies were dying, as evidenced by the dissolving and clearing of the surrounding agar gel” (2). Ever since that day, we have been racing to find new antibiotics that would help against bacterial infections. Since bacteria take so little time to grow, they can go through evolution much faster than humans can. Surviving bacteria can gain a resistance to the antibiotics, which would eventually make the antibiotic that once killed this bacteria useless. This is the issue the Tiny Earth Project is trying to combat. By giving students the chance to find these new antibiotics while learning in a course, the students feel like they are truly making a difference.


My personal experience with the Tiny Earth Project has possibly changed my career of choice. In my last semester of college, where I thought I had my career of choice set, my decision on what to do with my future is changing everyday I work on this project. I studied at California State University of Sacramento, majoring in Biology (Clinical Lab Sciences) and minoring in Chemistry. I had always thought I was going to work as a clinical lab scientist in a hospital somewhere, performing tests on patient samples. But right now, I think I am more interested in the neighbors we don’t see that are with us every day. I am currently yearning to continue working with bacteria after I graduate in May. Some people would have the feeling of stress asking themselves “Maybe I worked in the wrong setting all these years”. But I am more excited than ever to get out into the work world and find my place in a lab somewhere looking for these little creatures that hold secrets no one has ever known before. This whole project is about looking for antibiotics that can help other people, but I feel like I have been helped the most from it. My future is more clear now than it ever was before, and I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with the tiny earth. I’ve had many good things to say about this short journey that I am taking with the Tiny Earth project, but I will leave it at this, 10/10 would recommend!


References

1. González-Orta, E. T., Tobiason, D., Gasper, B. J., Raja, A., & Miller, S. (2022). Rapid pivot of cure wet lab to online with the help of Instructor Communities. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 23(1). https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.00250-21


2. Tan, S. Y., & Tatsumura, Y. (n.d.). Alexander Fleming (1881-1955): Discoverer of Penicillin. Singapore medical journal. Retrieved March 10, 2023, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26243971/



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