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BIO scientists to search for antibiotics in Thetford Forest soil samples

Image of soil

Scientists from the School of Biological Sciences will be digging for clues in the race to solve the problem of antibiotic resistance as part of a new research project.

They will investigate whether soil samples could hold the key to preventing antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections such as MRSA.

The Society for General Microbiology’s ‘Small World Initiative’, which launches today, will see soil samples crowd-sourced from around the UK. People in Norfolk can get involved at a ‘pop up’ event in Thetford Forest this week.

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, forest users can make an important contribution to the search for new ones.”

People visiting Thetford Forest from Wednesday, August 12, until Friday, August 14, will be able to collect and prepare a spoonful of soil and deposit it in a ‘soil bank’, which will be sent off to UEA for analysis.

They will then be able to 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.

Dr Hutchings said: “We will be screening soil samples collected by members of the public for new antibiotics. This involves isolating antibiotic producing bacteria from soil samples and identifying antibiotics made by those strains. We will then put all our results online for the public to see.”

Pop-Up Science Centre

Members of the public will be able to find out what antibiotics are, where they come from, and why we need them.

A team of Small World Initiative experts will be at the Forestry Commission’s High Lodge site in Thetford from 10am-4pm on August 12-14. As well as explaining why soil is the ideal place to search for new antibiotics, they will also be on hand to answer visitor questions about these wonder drugs.

Prof Nigel Brown, President of the Society for General Microbiology, said: “Antibiotics are often produced by soil micro-organisms and are one of the most important discoveries in medical history. Without them many minor diseases or injuries would be life-threatening.

“Visitors to High Lodge can really help scientists in the search for new antibiotics – perhaps the next one will even be found in soil from Thetford.”   

For more information about the event, visit:

Image: courtesy of the Natural Resource Conservation Service (Flickr).