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Antibiotics Unearthed

Small World Initiative

Antibiotics Unearthed is continuing in 2017, following on from two successful years of our project crowdsourcing for new antibiotics, inspired by the Small World Initiative™, the Microbiology Society is very pleased to announce it will continue this public engagement venture as ‘Antibiotics Unearthed’ in 2017.

Antibiotics Unearthed gives the general public, students and educators in the UK and Ireland the opportunity to work with scientists as part of a global initiative to discover new antibiotics from soil bacteria. Most antibiotics in current use have come from soil bacteria. For example, Actinomycetes produce over 60% of clinically important antibiotics. The Small World Initiative, first organised by Yale University, is an innovative and authentic research project, which uses crowdsourcing to discover new antibiotics from soil bacteria. It is now running in higher education institutions across the US. It is hoped that exposing their undergraduates to research experiences will inspire them to major in a science-based degree. The Society is taking the project further by including school pupils and the general public.

Undergraduate and school students will analyse their samples for antibacterial compounds and investigate any potential compounds that are found. In 2015, 6 undergraduate courses and 7 school partnerships ran the project, and in 2016, 7 undergraduate courses and 6 school partnerships also took part. A series of ‘pop-up’ events are also taking place at locations across the UK, giving the public the opportunity to submit their soil samples, which they can then make observations and track online through the analysis process.

Tracking your sampleTracking your sample

Did you submit a sample at our pop-up events at Garwnant Forest, Merthyr Tydfil or Kielder Forest, Northumberland? You can follow your samples on our dedicated Facebook page:


Find out more about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance:

Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics are important medicines for treating bacterial infections in both humans and animals. Unfortunately many of the bacteria which cause these infections are becoming resistant to existing antibiotics.

Antibiotics Unearthed will engage with three main groups:

The public through Citizen Science Project

The aim is to engage the public, through a practical-based soil activity, with the global issue of antimicrobial resistance and address some of the challenges associated with the discovery of novel antibiotics. A series of ‘pop-up’ events are taking place at locations across the UK and Ireland, which were started in summer 2015 and continued through 2016. Samples are given an identifier so that those taking part can track their sample and subsequent analysis online. The interactive stand at each location has a variety of hands-on activities for visitors to engage with the issue of antimicrobial resistance and drug discovery.

A-level or GCSE Biology students as part of the School Partnership

The aim is to inspire and motivate students by providing them with the opportunity to take part in a biology-related research project focusing on the global issue of antimicrobial resistance. It will teach key biological concepts, enabling students to be fully involved in the research process. Participating schools are linked with their local university, research institute, hospital or company. Applications are now open for the School Partnership programme.

Undergraduate students as part of the Undergraduate programme

The aim is to inspire and motivate students by allowing them to do real research and take ownership of their science. Each university or college will use its own expertise so the students can take part in biology-related research focusing on the global issue of antimicrobial resistance. They will  investigate biological and chemical soil ecology to learn key biological concepts. Applications are now open for the Undergraduate programme.

The project will also engage a PhD student in research activities:

PhD Studentship

The Society is collaborating on a cross-disciplinary match-funded PhD studentship with the University of East Anglia, as part of our work with Antibiotics Unearthed. The PhD student is an integral part of the project, refining how best to engage the public in the Initiative and developing methods to investigate potential antibacterial compound-producing micro-organisms that may be discovered as part of the project.

Useful links

Longitude Prize
The Longitude Prize needs you
RCUK highlights initiatives to tackle antimicrobial resistance
Small World Initiative
WHO AMR report
Yale University

Contact us

For further information on Antibiotics Unearthed, please contact the Education and Outreach Team on or 0207 685 2677.

Follow us on @MicrobioSoc or on our Facebook page:


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