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.

During our short stay in the country we were split into small, multinational groups, before being let loose to sample as many soil bacteria with antifungal properties from the local populace as possible. Each group harvested five samples from two different locations around Medellín one of which is shown in the group picture of everyone who went below. Another set of five were taken from a rainforest further afield – although all three locations were nature reserves. While in the field we learnt a lot about the effect of the soil on the local environment. After which, we deemed our acquisition complete, so retired to a laboratory within the Universidad de Eaifit to perform our experiments.

groupPutting all personal feelings for the bacteria aside, we got to work; through broken plates, negative results, and mountains of agar we toiled. However – eventually we were able to procure enough valid data to provide the actual researchers an inroad to the antifungal properties of the bacteria lucky enough to be plated out. As a consequence of the multinational groups in which we were placed; we were lucky enough to learn different approaches to techniques we were already somewhat familiar with, such as plate streaking. Within the laboratory itself we were working alongside undergraduate, masters and PhD students and as such were able to learn from each other as well as from the professors who accompanied us.

The trip was an absolute blast, however for me, what topped it off was during the birthday celebration of a Colombian professor, a large bug wondered into the room and perched on a door frame. Everyone in the room gravitated towards it, from the celebrations, and at that point I finally comprehended that despite heralding from different parts of the world, we were all united in our love of nature.