Vicky Berry

A Scientific and International experience in South America

vb_001When the opportunity first became apparent to visit Colombia in February, I was sold; having never been outside Europe I knew this was an experience not to miss. Any worries prior to the trip were immediately erased upon arrival in Medellin – the city, the hotel and our hosts combined could not have made us feel more comfortable in the new surroundings. This would be the first time with our university that we would be taking part in real life scientific research, by looking into the effects of temperature and humidity on the abundance and diversity of tropical microbes. We, comprising of students and academics from Reading, UMass Dartmouth, Universidad de Antioquia and Universidad EAFIT, visited 3 field sites of varying climates, where we collected soil samples at 5 varying distances from a start point per field site, using a trowel sterilised with alcohol – the total 15 samples would soon be used for microbiological analysis in an EAFIT laboratory.

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Michael O’Hora

Benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multinational setting

It was only when I was on the plane headed across the Atlantic to beautiful sunny Colombia that it dawned on me; this bioprospecting field trip was actually happening! I began to think of the people I’d be working with for two weeks, what would they be like, where would we go? What will the jungle be like? And when we touched down in Medellin, we were stunned by the incredible view that the valley city offered, and although it was very cloudy when we arrived, every single day we were captivated by the mountains on each side, with the cities buildings and skyscrapers scaling partway up the hillsides.

When we first met our fellow students from overseas, from the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth in the USA and students from both Universidad de Antioquia and Universidad de EAFIT in Colombia it was clear we would get on. Everyone was brilliant, each with a unique personality which meant close friendships quickly arose, crossing international borders even now, as I write this blog.

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Mark Lindars

Benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multinational setting

On Saturday the 18th of July a range of biological sciences students from the University of Massachusetts, EAFIT and Antioquia met with 13 Reading undergraduates including myself in the humid city of Medellin. The following two weeks would see me make great new friends, as well as unforgettable memories whilst learning about the microbial diversity across Colombia.

After the first weekend of getting to know each other over local Colombian dinners we were assigned to teams of five, with two English students, two Americans and one Colombian per group. The goal of the field trip was for each group to take soil samples from three very different locations: ArvÍ Park, Santa Fe and Uraba. Analysing the diversity of bacteria we found in the samples would allow us to understand how factors such as temperature and rainfall effected the growth of microorganisms in the tropics.

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Maria Hull

Benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multinational setting

When I told my family and friends I would be travelling to Colombia, their first response was often a raised eyebrow (smuggling jokes were not uncommon), indicating Colombia has not yet lost its reputation gained from its colourful past. After correcting them, explaining that this was an educational trip to sample soil and learn more about Colombian soil microbes, a noticeable glaze covered their eyes. Clearly people have misconceptions of both Colombia (we could not speak highly enough of our host city, Medellín, and the people we had the privilege of meeting there) and microbiology (a science both dynamic and highly engaging, though as a microbiologist I may be slightly biased!).
The Colombian expedition group consisted of American, Colombian and British students representing the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Universidad EAFIT, Universidad de Antioquia and the University of Reading. Our aim was to examine the effects of temperature and humidity on soil bacteria through fieldwork and lab sessions along with seminars given by the senior academics present.
To achieve this aim we took soil samples, in multinational groups of 4-5 students, from three different sites with varying conditions; the first site was cold and humid, the second warm and dry and the third warm and humid.

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Lucy Clement

Microbiologists Make Memories in Medellin

Many students will have spent the summer before third year as a chance to revel in one last holiday of no responsibilities before the inevitable post-graduation job hunt. However, 13 students from the University of Reading’s School of Biological Sciences were given the opportunity to ditch the “legs of hotdogs” instagrams and all-night Netflix binges to spend two weeks working towards a final year module on the other side of the world.

Although the School is no stranger to running far flung trips, the tropical microbiology field trip is the first of its kind to be run by the university. The brainchild of the University of Reading’s own Dr Rob Jackson along with Dr Mark Silby of UMass Dartmouth and Dr Camilo Ramirez from the Universidad de Antioquia, the trip spent over three years in the planning pipeline before it received the go ahead from all four universities involved.

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Kathryn Miller

This summer, I was fortunate enough to go on the tropical microbiology trip to Colombia. Whilst we were there the rest of the Reading students and I were joined by students from UMass Dartmouth, Universidad EAFIT and Universidad de Antioquia. When we arrived we were split into multinational groups of 4-5. Despite my initial fears that the language barrier would pose a problem, especially with my horrendous Spanish skills, my fears were soon shown to be unfounded as the Colombians spoke English better than the Americans. This was proven when debates ensued over what biscuits and crisps are!

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Jonathan Lewis

Multinational tropical microbiology

Medellín has an unfortunate historical reputation for violence, but it is now emerging as a vibrant and modern Andean destination for travellers, so it sounded like the perfect location to carry out a two week microbiological research project. As such a group of British and American students and professors joined up with counterparts from the University of Antiquia and EAFIT University in Medellín to broaden the horizons of everyone involved on both a scientific and cultural level.

Our first encounter with the American students saw us sharing a lively evening at a Colombian restaurant, with most of us eating various local dishes, and a handful eating very un-traditional ribs and chips, an introduction second to none. This proved to be an excellent icebreaker and allowed us to form very close bonds with them, forging many friendships, some, I’m sure, may prove to be lifelong. The very next day we corralled ourselves to meet with the Colombian students and found that upon conversing with them we found we shared many interests, and, as such broken Spanglish became more commonly heard from both British, American, and Colombian mouths.

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Heather Owens

Benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multinational setting

After plenty of planning, meetings and a great deal of apprehension, I was very excited when the day finally arrived to travel from the UK to Medellín, Colombia. This trip was particularly significant as it marked the first collaboration of its kind between University of Reading, UMass Dartmouth, Universidad EAFIT and Universidad de Antioquia. I planned to make the very most of our visit, eager to seize this opportunity to learn from the Colombian and American students.

We had been warned that days would be long and tough, filled with challenges both physical and mental. As it turned out we would hike through dense jungle, wade through streams, climb steep hills in baking heat and trek at high altitudes to obtain our samples. We also had lots of seminars to take in as best we could, delivered by specialists in the topics surrounding our investigation.

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Emma Adams

Benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multinational setting: #MicroCol2015

Colombia. The destination of choice for pioneering research by undergraduate students at The University of Reading and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth with our hosts Universidad EAFIT and Universidad de Antioquia. A multicultural line-up indicating the international value of the research and experience to all those involved.

It would be untrue to say I wasn’t a little apprehensive of where we were going, a feeling that wasn’t helped by the foreign office’s travel advice which until recently had a large proportion of Colombia in the ‘red’ or advise against all travel zone because of conflict within the country. However, this perspective immediately changed when we arrived. We stayed in Colombia for two weeks, feeling completely at home in one of the most diverse and beautiful countries I have ever had the pleasure to visit. Of course as a group we were aware there are still problems in Colombia, but just like the research conducted on our trip, it is a country that is rapidly developing and progressing.
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Edward Jones

Bio prospecting and tropical microbiology in Colombia: a multinational project

I was lucky enough to be able to partake in an amazing field trip in one of the most picturesque countries in the world: Colombia. The aim of the project was to bioprospect for bacteria and learn about the microbial diversity in different tropical biomes. This involved field and lab work as well as seminars from various specialised lecturers aimed towards helping us learn more about tropical microbiology. Based in a country filled with spectacular natural beauty, I can honestly say that it was an incredible experience.

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The banana plantation we visited in Uraba, the humid and wet region we visited, highlighting the importance for biological control.

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