Introducing one of my favorite citizen science projects you can do at home: helping to discover new antibiotics. According to Post/Biotics, it’s been 30 years since a new antibiotic was discovered, and each year old antibiotics are being rendered useless from overuse and microbial resistance. This is bad news, and it’s bad news the world over. People are dying in all countries, including yours, from us losing this fight (25,000 people in Europe every year).
There’s good news, though. You can be part of the solution. And your part doesn’t require a lot of homemade equipment or know-how. This DIYbio project is an easy, entry level project. Check out their introductory video below, and if your interest is piqued, read on!
Some Antibiotic Facts
I’m planning on doing a longer write-up on the antibiotic history and science to provide some context (which I’ll link here), but in the meantime, here are a few quick points you should know.
- By some counts, antibiotics have saved 100-200 million lives
- Antibiotics have been discovered in the most mundane of places (outside of someone’s office building, for example)
- Scientists can’t even hope to find as many antibiotics as we can collectively find as a population. That’s the nature of citizen science.
Post/Biotics tagline is “What if the world’s next antibiotic is in your back yard?” This, it turns out, is not a silly question.
Post/Biotics provides a toolkit or “lab in a box” (pictured to the left) that has everything you need to test samples around you for antibiotic properties. This includes things in your own backyard, making it one of the easiest and most significant science projects you can do at home. Also, with a little adult supervision, this can be a great citizen science project for kids.
Here’s how it works. You collect 10 samples from around your backyard- soil, roots, leaf petals, whatever- crush your samples up and put them in a petri dish that has bacteria in it. Twenty four to forty eight hours later, you check your petri dish to see if any of the samples have killed the bacteria around it. If you think it has, you can use Post/Biotics app to upload the photo and have others verify it (making it one of the few citizen science apps out there).
The upside is that you could help find the first antibiotic in over thirty years and do so in your own backyard. And aside from helping to further citizen science, if you’re successful, you’ll also be credited in an academic paper. Yeah, how cool would that be for an 8 year old? Pretty cool.
Be sure to check out their website for more information, and if you’re a parent or guardian, get a kid involved in this citizen science. Even better, if you’re a teacher, order their group kits and get many kids involved.