Insight Publications | Digging for answers (Tiny Earth)
Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about what’s in the dirt beneath our feet. That’s not the case for University of Wisconsin-Green Bay students studying soil samples to discover previously unknown bacteria, which could lead to the development of new antibiotics.The students are part of the Tiny Earth project, a global network of educators who teach a research course aimed at discovering new antibiotics that started at UW-Madison in 2018. The course provides students with the opportunity for original thinking and scientific discovery and can inspire them to pursue STEM careers. About 10,000 students are enrolled in some version of the Tiny Earth course throughout 45 U.S. states and 15 countries.“The students get their own soil sample to test. They isolate bacteria, conduct gene sequencing and do a lot of other interesting things,” says UW-Green Bay biology professor Brian Merkel. “The students realize they are part of something that’s bigger than them and they’re contributing to an international effort.”The program’s global reach and goal of discovering new antibiotics caught the eye of Microsoft. The Seattle-based company provided UW-Green Bay’s Tiny Earth project with an AI for Earth grant that places Microsoft’s cloud and AI tools into the hands of students, says Michelle Schuler, manager of Microsoft TechSpark Wisconsin.