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La Salle News

December 6, 2018

La Salle University Students Join Tiny Earth Network to Discover New Antibiotics From Soil Bacteria

La Salle University is joining the push to mitigate one of the most critical public health crises facing the world: antibiotic resistance. And they’re doing it with other students across the country from the Tiny Earth network.

There is a diminishing supply of antibiotics to treat the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. This critical worldwide health crisis is extremely concerning given that our current arsenal of antibiotics is proving to be less and less effective, and only a few new classes of antibiotics have been created since the 1970s:  Most pharmaceutical companies have abandoned the search for new antibiotics as a result of dwindling profit margins and long timelines for FDA-approval.

To combat the antibiotic resistance crisis scientists have united in a global effort to discover novel antibiotics by examining soil microorganisms collected from a variety of local environments since many of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics were discovered from “dirt.” Soil microbes produce two key antibiotics, Penicillin and vancomycin, and a single handful of soil contains more living organisms than there are people on our planet.

Students at La Salle, along with students from more than 200 participating schools across 44 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and 14 countries, are a part of the crowdsourcing effort established by the University of Wisconsin-based Tiny Earth network.

The students gain hands-on research experience in the freshman Cellular Biology and Genetics course to address the worldwide health crisis of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections. This international collaboration harnesses the collective power of student researchers across the globe to discover new antibiotics from soil microorganisms. Tiny Earth is an ambitious and innovative project that allows students to engage in authentic research to address a real-world problem.

Students feel a sense of ownership of their discoveries because the soil is from their local environment, at a site of their choosing, and they also feel a sense of belonging in the greater scientific community. Research has shown that students who engage in authentic research experiences are more likely to pursue and persist in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Alison Knowles, a student in the course remarked, “unlike a typical laboratory, we are doing actual research and have the opportunity to make genuine scientific discoveries. It’s exciting because our research really matters and we have the potential to impact a big, real-world problem.”

David Zuzga, Chair of the Department of Biology at La Salle ( with questions about the Cellular Biology & Genetics course, and the Biology program at La Salle.  Follow along on the quest for antibiotics via Instagram – biologylasalleu; Twitter – @bio_lasalle; and Linkedin – La Salle Biology. More information is available at

About La Salle University    La Salle University was established in 1863 through the legacy of St. John Baptist de La Salle and the Brothers of the Christian Schools teaching order, which St. La Salle founded in 1680. La Salle University is an educational community shaped by traditional Catholic and Lasallian values, and has been consistently recognized for excellence and value by U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education, Money magazine, Forbes, and The Princeton Review. The New York Times ranked La Salle in the top 6% nationally for median income of its graduates at age 34. Globally, Lasallian education reaches over one million students in 77 countries on six continents; this includes more than 1,000 schools, universities, and centers of education, and 65 colleges and universities with six located in the United States.