Colorado State University one of 25 chosen to promote antibiotic awareness

Pamela Shapiro

Nathan Heberlein, a senior studying microbiology, had no idea that a 3-credit lab could inspire and impact him for the rest of his college career.

Heberlein is part of Colorado State University’s effort to highlight issues around antibiotic resistance.

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CSU is one of 25 universities chosen to take part in the SWI (Small World Initiative). This initiative highlights not only the problems associated with antibiotic resistance, but also the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics. CSU was chosen to give the class as well as promote antibiotic awareness.

CSU offers a research class that is geared only toward first-year students studying microbiology. This course is hands-on and allows students to find antibiotic-producing bacteria through soil.

Photo: Caio Pereira
(Photo credit: Caio Pereira.)

This class requires a lot of time and commitment, which is why it is aimed toward first-year microbiology students, Heberlein said. The class demonstrates to students what it would be like to work in a microbiology career.

“If students that take this course decide they don’t like it, then they can go and do something else, but that being said, everyone I know that has taken it has loved the class,” Heberlein said.   

Heberlein, who took the course and now serves as a TA for the course, said it really prepares microbiology students for the real world.

“It exposes you to a lot of methods that are used both in industry and research,” Heberlein said. “Students need to be prepared for the work. It’s challenging, (and) it makes students think a lot more than some of the other classes because they are responsible for more of the work.” 

The work in this class is contributing to Antibiotic Awareness Week, which is Nov. 16-22.

This course is only one example of CSU’s efforts to create awareness around antibiotic resistance. 

Erica Suchman founded the antibiotic research class here at CSU and is also a co-professor of the course. 

Suchman said this course encourages students to find new bacteria and develop novel antibiotics. Suchman said that the reason there is such a big problem with antibiotic resistance is because people tend to look in the same places and tend to re-isolate the same antibiotics over and over again.

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CSU microbiology students are the future to finding a solution to this issue.

“Students work with eskape pathogens, which are basically safe versions of pathogens that are known to be developing antibiotic resistance,” Suchman said. “Students then try to test soil to find antibiotics against the six escape pathogens.”

The most rewarding part of this class, as well as this initiative, is giving research experience to students early in their careers, Suchman said.

“This gives them the skills they need to find a lab once they are done with the class,” Suchman said. “Basic training that students need when they get to a research lab, my students already have. That makes them better poised to enter a lab.”

Claudia Gentry-Weeks is also a co-professor of the research course and was trained by Suchman. Gentry-Weeks agrees that this is a beneficial program for all microbiology students.

“The students really like it and they learn a lot,” Gentry-Weeks said. “The students do everything themselves and really, it’s up to them to figure out what experiments they’re going to do. The end result is to extract the antibiotic and then everybody shares that information on the Small World website. All of these students sharing their results really helps them learn how to analyze data, and gain intense work skills.”

Collegian Reporter Pamela Shapiro can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @pb_shapiro.