Kentucky college to help fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Kentucky Wesleyan College biology students will join more than 200 schools across the U.S., Puerto Rico and 14 countries in the fight against antibiotic-resistance infections.

This "crowdsourced" research was endeavored by the University of Wisconsin, which began Tiny Earth, the network that includes the schools working on this global effort to create effective antibiotics.

Rachel Pritchard, KWC assistant professor of biology, is leading the Owensboro program along with KWC professor Kevin Horn. Pritchard said she is excited about KWC students participating in the worldwide effort for a number of reasons.

For one, she has been working the past few years to transition Kentucky Wesleyan biology students from what she called a "traditional cookbook style lab" to an authentic research experience.

The traditional lab assignments that involve students completing an activity each week following a "recipe" means students know exactly what's going to happen, she said. There has been a lot of published information, however, that says the authentic research experience grabs the attention of students and also encourages more student interest in the field of science.

"It gives them a better idea of what the process of science looks like in a lab, instead of just the scientific method that they learned in junior high," Pritchard said.

This project also provides genuine research for students to add to their resumes and helps them later in their collegiate careers.

In this real-life research, students will have the opportunity to study soil micro-organisms collected from varying environments. Dirt produces penicillin and vancomycin, two central antibiotics, and, according to a release sent by KWC, many other commonly prescribed antibiotics were discovered from dirt.

According to Tiny Earth, there have been few antibiotics developed since the 1970s, and antibiotic-resistance bacterial infections are becoming a worldwide crisis.

After Pritchard introduced this project to her students early this week, she said many were excited to be a part of this worldwide effort.

"It's interesting for a student to think about the concept that what I'm doing now as a freshman could be a prescription a doctor is writing 10 years from now," she said.

The community can follow KWC and its Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics through this project and discovery process at facebook.com/KWCScience.

More information is also available at tinyearth.wisc.edu.

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