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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During our stay we investigated the effect of water and temperature on the diversity and number of bacteria within the soil. To do this involved trekking through three different types of forest, each presenting their own challenges, from deadly snakes and spiders to eating an ice cream whilst crossing barb-wire fences. The bacteria we found were isolated and descriptions and characteristics investigated in the lab through enzyme assays, resistance testing and growth media to see if they could have any future use in developing new antibiotics or fungicides. Our findings within each group were presented at an end symposium to staff from all the universities involved, which like the Universidad de Antioquia article analysed the work we completed and the consequent effects of the international collaborations upon students, staff and science alike.

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Left: Keeping the world updated on our progress in Colombia via the #MicroCol2015 tag, pictured is the entire group in our final sample site in the Uraba region rainforest. Right: Vicky Berry and myself with our course graduation certificates at the Universidad EAFIT campus.

The diversity of the soil reflected the diversity of the students on the trip, a cultural accumulation of people with different nationalities, languages and also perspectives upon the work we carried out. Personally, coming from an agricultural background, I enjoyed the effect farming and cultivation had upon our findings. Whereas some of our American counterparts were hoping to pursue a future in medicine so found the abilities of the bacteria and their relation to human health most inspiring. However, over the course of the two weeks I became increasingly aware of how our Colombian friends would be affected by our research as they were at the forefront of this new area of collaborative study in their own country. Arguably the personal value was just as high as the scientific findings and new techniques we learnt, we made new friends and maintain a daily online communication between the entire group despite everyone now living hundreds of miles apart. South Coast Today reviewed how the trip has broadened the perspectives for our American students at uMass Dartmouth and the incredible success of the trip. A sentiment I feel that all those who partook share, from this once in a lifetime opportunity.

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