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.
The banana plantation we visited in Uraba, the humid and wet region we visited, highlighting the importance for biological control.
The trip also had another incredible factor, which was the chance to work with three other universities and their students and staff. The Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad EAFIT (both our Colombian hosts) and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth joined us. This gave me an insight into how universities in other countries work differently, as well as talking to the students and learning more about this amazing country. This also made me realise how useful it is to be able to speak a second language, especially one so widely spoken such as Spanish, which has made me committed to learning it.
The majority of the first week was field work and we were split into groups of 4 or 5 with members being from each university. My group got along very well in the field and the lab and we managed to get some really interesting results. We took samples of soil from three different tropical biomes, each with varying levels of humidity and heat, with hopes of being able to compare the biodiversity of microbial life in each area. The first was Arvi Park, a mountainous zone which was humid but quite cool temperature wise. Second was Santa Fe, an area which was hotter but less humid (this is where we had the opportunity to try fresh fruit such as mango!). Finally, we went to Uraba, a tropical rainforest region which was hot and humid and for certain my favourite place! Understanding the climatic conditions of each area was key and this allowed us to predict what the abundance would be like. It was really interesting looking at the variety of plant life, which was also a key factor in microbe diversity. I was amazed by the amount of plant and animal diversity; we even saw some monkeys! Also, it was really interesting to collect our own samples which we would later be analysing and working on in the lab ourselves. This included biochemical and antimicrobial tests as well as DNA extraction and PCR; an area I have not had much experience in. But what I found most useful was the seminars on bioinformatics and metagenomics, as this is the area I am working on in my dissertation and helped me realise how important these analytic techniques have become.
Some of us sampling fresh fruit in Santa Fe- the hot, dry biome we visited.
This region was stunning and it was great trying fruit straight from the trees.
Colombia is a country that has an unfortunate reputation, shadowed by its troubles during the 80s. Despite this, the trip was a huge success and this certainly reflects Colombia escaping this shadow. It was gratifying to work with people from other countries, who also have an interest in microbiology, and have the opportunity to increase my experience in the lab and field.