Bethan West

Benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multinational setting

I went to Medellin, Colombia, with 12 other students from the University of Reading to participate in a microbiology field-trip with some international students from the University of Massachusetts in America and two universities in Medellin; the Universidad EAFIT and the University of Antioquia. This field-trip was designed so we could find bacteria within the soil that might have the potential to help protect plants within the subtropics from disease.

We spent two weeks in Colombia, travelling to three sites to take soil samples based on their environmental conditions. We were split into six groups to collect lots of samples for testing back in the lab. Within the locations each group had to collect five samples from along a transect line; one sample was taken from 0, 1, 10, 100 and 1000 cm respectively. In order to collect the soil samples each group member was given a trowel, alcohol to sterilise the trowel and two Falcon tubes (one tube contained soil that we would experiment on and the other tube contained soil that would have its DNA extracted and frozen).

First we went to Arví Park, a cold humid place about 2,500 metres above sea level. The next day we travelled to Santa Fe, a hot dry area and finally we went to the Tulenapa field station in Urabá. We sampled at Urabá due to its hot and humid conditions and whilst we were there we visited the rainforest, where my group took samples, and we also visited a local banana plantation where two groups took their samples.

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After we had collected all the soil samples, we took them back to the lab at EAFIT where we performed tests on a few colonies to see if any of them could stop fungal and bacterial growth and if they could utilise a particular nutrient. We also performed an antibiotic resistance test on our isolated colonies as antibiotic resistance is a big issue within biology and we wanted to know if our isolates were resistant to the well-known antibiotics.

From this trip I learnt that there are many microbes within the soil, some that have never been seen before and some that would be useful in protecting plants from disease. I also learnt a lot from the other students like new techniques that could be used within the lab and different viewpoints on particular topics of interest.

As this was the first year that a field-trip of this extent has ever been attempted in Colombia by the University of Reading Biological Sciences I believe that it was a fantastic two weeks which has not only benefited the students and staff but also Colombia as a whole country. The multinational concept of the trip made it very special as it brought different people from across the World together in a common interest. Here is an article from the University de Antioquia about this field-trip.

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