Mark Lindars

Benefits of fieldwork for microbiologists in a multinational setting

On Saturday the 18th of July a range of biological sciences students from the University of Massachusetts, EAFIT and Antioquia met with 13 Reading undergraduates including myself in the humid city of Medellin. The following two weeks would see me make great new friends, as well as unforgettable memories whilst learning about the microbial diversity across Colombia.

After the first weekend of getting to know each other over local Colombian dinners we were assigned to teams of five, with two English students, two Americans and one Colombian per group. The goal of the field trip was for each group to take soil samples from three very different locations: ArvÍ Park, Santa Fe and Uraba. Analysing the diversity of bacteria we found in the samples would allow us to understand how factors such as temperature and rainfall effected the growth of microorganisms in the tropics.


groupA

Group A: Lucy, Me, Katie, Mari Ana and Bryan, just before we embarked on our first sampling trip!

During our long treks through the sampling locations I enjoyed hearing about how the other international student’s courses worked (e.g. Katie was a post graduate and Mari Ana is a Master’s student, both from different Universities) and it opened my eyes as to how other countries teach, which was very interesting. My favourite sampling location was the hot and humid rainforest in Urabá, hiking through the thick jungle was a very rewarding experience, with snakes, spiders and monkeys to keep me on my toes throughout!

The second week was spent mostly in the EAFIT labs, here I learned so much in such a short period of time from the Professors and students alike. Although many tasks were similar to what we do on a weekly basis in our practical classes at home, my international group members showed me how they work slightly differently and everyone was learning from each other every day; for example the Colombian lab technicians showed me some brilliant tips to improve my micro pipetting – pardon the pun.

EAFITlabsEveryone working hard in the EAFIT labs during the busy second week of analysis!

The university itself was a very welcoming place to visit and our Colombian hosts made it easy for us to integrate into the campus lifestyle. Towards the end of the second week we began composing a presentation of our results which was to be shown on the Friday, it was a challenging task but the groups pulled together with each symposium being both entertaining and informative. By the time we had all presented everybody was exhausted, but there was still so much of Medellin to explore, I would highly recommend a field trip abroad like this to anybody who is interested in microbiology.

Reflecting on my time in Colombia, the main thing I took away was experience, looking at the process of bioprospecting from start to finish with my own samples being collected, analysed and presented was a great way to learn about all aspects of this biological area.

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