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The student-sourced Tiny Earth project applies an old adage—many hands make light work—to a modern threat to human health worldwide. 

This fall, students in Eric Matson’s bacteriology class at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh joined the effort to unearth new antibiotic-producing microbes to help combat “superbugs” like MRSA that have evolved resistance to antibiotics. 

Headquartered at UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, the Tiny Earth project is a global network focused on student-sourcing antibiotic discovery from soil samples.  

“As a scientist, educator and a citizen, I am very pleased and excited to have our UW Oshkosh students participating in such an important project,” said Colleen McDermott, interim dean of UWO’s College of Letters and Science. 

Although engaging in scientific research with real-world implications always benefits learning and career potential, McDermott said the Tiny Earth project goes further in offering “an extraordinary opportunity for students and a potential boon for public health.” 

With nearly 10,000 students in 45 states and 15 countries collecting soil samples, the project casts a wide net in seeking promising microbial isolates.

Matson, who attended a training at UW-Madison last winter to become a Tiny Earth partner instructor, said the six-week project requires good collaboration and teamwork among students.  

“This lab work is what real science feels like,” he said. 

Students like UWO medical technology junior Sam Amory, of Marinette, learn a variety of laboratory techniques, including how to perform chemical extractions and work with agar (the gelatinous substance used in biological cultures).

“Tiny Earth gives our lab assignments more purpose,” she said. “It’s a real experience … we could actually help with antibiotic discoveries.” 

Environmental engineering major Eliza Fitzsimmons, a senior from Oshkosh who graduates in just a few short weeks, is struck by the fact that students from around the world are all working to solve the same problem. 

“This class has such a huge purpose,” she said.

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