"Tiny Earth" targets global health crisis

Published: Dec. 5, 2018 at 3:37 PM CST
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College students around Wisconsin are set to showcase their work on what scientists describe as a growing global health crisis.

That crisis is antibiotic resistance, which is increasing at an alarming rate.

The "Tiny Earth" initiative is intent on discovering solutions to the problem, which is why UW-Green Bay professor Brian Merkel considers his students the best medicine against the threat to global health.

"Significant loss of life due to infections that we simply are finding very difficult if not impossible to treat anymore because we've exhausted everything essentially that we have on the shelf to treat these things. In the United States, deaths specifically due to antibiotic resistant bacteria, it's over 20,000 individuals a year, but the concern is that if we continue on this trajectory it's going to be in the millions in short order just in this country alone," says Merkel, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology.

Merkel says the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria is the result of human overuse, or misuse, of antibiotics in agriculture to spur growth production and in doctors' clinics around the world.

"We live in an age where it's very fast paced, and if you're ill I want to be better yesterday attitude." (butt) 6:48 "I'm at this urgent care or I've made an appointment with my physician and I want one of those magic slips from your magic pad, whether or not it's suitable for the infection you have or not. If we take antibiotics and we don't take them effectively, it gives our own bacteria that we're carrying an opportunity to develop resistance because we're not taking the antibiotic properly," says Merkel.

Launched around 5 years ago, and now in 15 countries, Tiny Earth aims to inspire college researchers around the world to include students in antibiotic discovery.

"This is really a crowd sourcing effort, more specifically a student sourcing effort because students are being put on this important task and the more of us that do it, there's a chance that we're going to strike gold and find something new," says Merkel.

On Friday night at Lambeau Field, more than 100 students around the state will showcase their work, and continue to raise awareness.