Danny Ward

Tropical Microbiology in Colombia: A Multinational Expedition

Tropical Microbiology is an ever expanding and exciting field of science that focuses on how and why certain bacteria grow in particular climates and conditions. I was lucky enough to be selected to attend the multicultural field trip abroad where we students would be collecting soil samples to test for a variety of bacteria as a part of a scientific technique known as “bioprospecting”.

In the summer of 2015, 12 other University of Reading students and I set off to the far and distant land of Colombia, South America for two weeks. During the trip we were joined by students belonging to the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, USA as well as our host country’s very own Universidad de Antioquia and Universidad EAFIT all providing a cultural melting pot of knowledge and potential friendships to the experience.

Out in the Field

The thirty of us students along with the lecturers and site guides explored and investigated three sampling sites located all over the northern region of Colombia known as the department of Antioquia, one of the largest and most populous regions of the country. The sampling sites chosen were Arví Park which was a cold and dry climate, Santa Fe – a hot and dry climate and a third site Urabá – with hot and humid weather. We all took multiple soil samples at various points ready for testing within the lab.


The Sampling Groups from all Participating Universities,
Photo taken at Santa Fe Sampling Site.

Into the Labs

For the second week, my fellow colleagues and I were frequently situated within the laboratories at Universidad EAFIT where we grew what bacteria we managed to find within the soil samples. We then proceeded to carry out a variety of biochemical and antibiotic resistance tests to help us understand a little more about each sample site. In our findings we learnt that the final site Urabá, our hot and humid site had a greater variety and total number of bacteria per soil sample, showing us that the site was the best suited for organic life.


Lab Testing of Samples at Universidad EAFIT

Thoughts and Reflections

Looking back over the experience I feel incredibly privileged to be part of such a unique and important trip. What may initially have been seen as a disadvantage due to cultural differences, having students from all over the world come together to help develop scientific knowledge worked better than could have ever been expected. Everyone brought a variety of different skills, talents and backgrounds to the table all of which allowed us to look at situations and challenges from a variety of angles.

On reflection, I believe this trip to have been such an amazing and worthwhile experience meeting some truly incredible people who I will never forget, seeing such a beautiful country all while allowing me to understand and learn more about the subject I enjoy so much.

Watch the video of the entire trip below: