NWTC students nationally recognized for findings in antibiotics

A bacteria discovered at Pamperin Park in Brown County could lead to the creation of new antibiotics.
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 3:41 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 16, 2023 at 5:36 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - A bacteria discovered at Pamperin Park in Brown County could lead to the creation of new antibiotics. It’s a race against time the World Health Organization says we are losing.

A growing number of infections, like pneumonia and strep throat, are becoming harder to treat with antibiotics. Misuse is a contributing factor, but so too is the lack of research focused on finding new ones.

Most of us don’t think about soil often, but for Justyna Kakol, a microbiology graduate at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, it’s different.

“Every time I am thinking of walking around, hmmm maybe there are bacteria there,” said Justyna Kakol, a Microbiology Graduate at NWTC.

It’s because her work, as an undergrad at NWTC, now appears in three national publications according to her professor.

“This is the first time in NWTC’s history and, I verified this last week, the first time in state history that any publication came from a student at the Tech College Level,” said Angelo Kolokithas, Director Of Biology Program, NWTC.

Kakol and another student recently found a bacteria that could potentially lead to a new set of antibiotics to fight serious bacterial infections, something the world is in dire need of right now.

“In 2017, the World Health Organization actually declared that we’re living in a post-antibiotic era where we start to see deaths, of things like strep throat, and common respiratory infections and things like that. If we don’t get a handle on this,” said Angelo.

The bacteria that they are testing was found in soil here at Pamperin Park, now the bacteria were originally discovered in North Korea and used in bioremediation in dumps for nicotine. But it’s never been found here in the United States and it’s never been tested for antibiotics at all, until now.

“That is kind of the golden pot if you will. If we started testing these previously discovered bacteria to see whether or not they’re producing antibiotics we might have some new candidates for antibiotics. We’ve only tested probably about 0.1% of all bacteria ever discovered,” said Angelo.

Bacteria in soil often produce antibiotics in order to defend itself from other bacteria. Kakol recognized that activity and isolated it.

Then she tested the antibiotic against commonly known pathogens and found it killed those bacteria. Right away that’s good sign, but if it turns out to be toxic to humans, then it’s a dead end.

But for Kakol, it’s not the end for this bacteria, it’s just the beginning.

“And so she tested on human cells to see if it was toxic, and it was not toxic at all at high concentrations and over long periods of time,” said Angelo.

“I’m like, pretty sure that okay, I’m more confident that what we discover is it’s true. It’s real,” said Kakol.

This bacteria will now be sent to UW-Madison for further testing and research.

The future of this discovery is unknown but the potential it could have on antibiotic-resistant infections could be life-changing and it started right here at NWTC.

“For me, the highlight of all of this is that we were able to do this research at a technical college with no outside funding whatsoever, no grants, no anything like that. And we were able to do such high-quality work. With these students, because the students are high quality at the Tech College,” said Angelo.

“It’s worth taking the risk and it’s worth to give this opportunity to students because that can be like publish or they can you can like discover something very excited,” said Kakol.

A local college makes a groundbreaking discovery that could help fight bacterial infections.