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BIO hunts for antibiotics in Number 10 soil

Soil sample from Number 10 Downing StreetScientists from UEA's School of Biological Sciences are analysing soil from Number 10 Downing Street in a bid to identify new antibiotics.

They are investigating whether soil samples supplied by members of the public could hold the key to preventing antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections such as MRSA.

The research is part of the Microbiology Society’s ‘Small World Initiative’, which launched in August.

A sample from the Prime Minister’s garden arrived at UEA for analysis after Society members visited Number 10. Their president Prof Nigel Brown dug up the sample, which now joins more than 300 others submitted by the public.

Dr Matt Hutchings, from BIO, said: “Antibiotics are important medicines needed to treat and sometimes prevent bacterial infections.

“As antibiotic resistance increases there is a huge need for more of these vital drugs.

“As most antibiotics are produced by soil bacteria, members of the public can make an important contribution to the search for new ones.

“Jake Newitt, a research assistant, is currently working in my lab to analyse these soil samples for the Microbiology Society who will be posting the results online for the public to see.”

The Small World Initiative launched with a crowd-sourcing event in Thetford Forest. The pop-up event gave members of the public the chance to collect and prepare a spoonful of soil and deposit it in a soil bank which was then sent off to UEA for analysis.

Participants could then follow the progress of their soil sample online, work with scientists to analyse the colour, shape and size of the bacteria living within it, and find out if any antibiotics are being produced.

Earlier this year Dr Laura Bowater from UEA’s Norwich Medical School and Rachel Jarrold from the Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form College in Norwich ran a pilot project which saw sixth form students and university researchers working together to look for potential antibiotics.