This summer, I was fortunate enough to go on the tropical microbiology trip to Colombia. Whilst we were there the rest of the Reading students and I were joined by students from UMass Dartmouth, Universidad EAFIT and Universidad de Antioquia. When we arrived we were split into multinational groups of 4-5. Despite my initial fears that the language barrier would pose a problem, especially with my horrendous Spanish skills, my fears were soon shown to be unfounded as the Colombians spoke English better than the Americans. This was proven when debates ensued over what biscuits and crisps are!
The aim of the trip was to study the effect that humidity and temperature have on the abundance and diversity of bacteria seen in tropical environments. When you think of a tropical climate most people think of a hot and humid environment, however the field trips we went on proved to me that this is not the case. We visited 3 different field sites: Arvi Park which was a cloud forest in the mountains and was cold and humid, Sante Fe which was hot and dry farmland; and then finally we visited Uraba which was hot and humid, more specifically a rainforest. When we were in the field, each group collected a set of 10 samples of soil on each field trip in slightly different locations, these samples were taken at specific points along a transect line.
Taking soil samples along a transect in Sante Fe at 0cm, 1cm, 10cm, 1m and 10m from start of transect
In order to prevent contamination we wore gloves and sterilised our trowels with alcohol before we took the samples. The samples were then taken back to the labs, where we processed the them and used microbiological tests to see if we had found interesting bacteria, for example my group found a bacterium that inhibited another bacteria’s growth. Our time in the field and lab work allowed us all to bond as a group as we learned alternative ways of doing the same process, each of which produced the same outcomes.
Throughout the two weeks, we were entertained by riveting lectures and seminars given by various staff members about not only microbiology, but various subjects that influence microbial life such as ecology. Post-seminars we were posed open-ended questions that allowed us to tie up all the information we had been given and put it into well thought out answers within our groups.
So far in my degree, I have almost been spoon-fed with samples and I haven’t actually seen or been involved in collecting the samples for myself. This trip gave me a real insight into what actually goes into finding new and useful bacteria in novel environments and it has shown me that microbiology is not just contained in the lab. Overall, I had one of the best experiences of my life not only going to the amazing country of Colombia and learning so much more about the subject I love, but also meeting all the amazing people I did.