Summit student researchers searching for antibiotic producing bacteria

Summit student researchers searching for antibiotic producing bacteria
Student researchers

Students research antibiotic resistant bacteria at The Summit Country Day School’s Schiff Family Science Research Institute.


Three Summit Country Day School students spent a portion of their summer researching antibiotic producing bacteria at the school’s Schiff Family Science Research Institute.

Juniors Sam Perez, Anderson Township; Mona Hajjar, Symmes Township; and Erin Devine, Indian Hill joined students from more than 270 participating schools across 44 US states, Puerto Rico and 19 countries in a University of Wisconsin-based student-sourcing effort called Tiny Earth. Jessica Replogle, Ph.D., head of the Schiff Family Science Research Institute, is the only certified high school Tiny Earth partner instructor in the Cincinnati area. The student researchers are trying to discover new antibiotics-producing microbes from local soil samples.

“This critical worldwide health crisis is extremely concerning given that our current arsenal of antibiotics is proving to be rather useless, and only a few new classes of antibiotics have been created since the 1970s,” said the Tiny Earth organization in a statement. “In fact, most pharmaceutical companies have abandoned the search for new antibiotics as a result of dwindling profit margins and long timelines for FDA approval. To combat the antibiotic resistance crisis, scientists have united in a global effort to discover novel antibiotics by examining soil microorganisms collected from a variety of local environments.”

“Soil has huge amounts of biodiversity, and many currently used antibiotics originated from soil microorganisms,” Dr. Replogle said. “The soil microbiome contains millions of bacteria and may be a great source of new antibiotics.” 

Student doing research

“I first heard about the Tiny Earth project on Twitter,” she said. “It seemed like a great opportunity to bring authentic research to Summit Country Day School students and make them part of something bigger, both solving the antibiotic crisis and the Tiny Earth global network. It has a structured approach to identifying antibiotic producing bacteria, but there are so many opportunities for students to ask unique questions and test various hypothesis.”

Sam, Mona and Erin would have been engaged in summer science research internships at science laboratories across Cincinnati, but those were cancelled because of COVID-19 restrictions. Once restrictions were lifted at The Summit, the students met with Dr. Replogle in the spacious Science Research Institute laboratory where they could socially distance themselves while performing their research.

The students each brought in a unique sample of soil from which bacteria were cultured and isolated. “These isolates were assayed for antibiotic activity against specific, safe tester bacterial strains,” Dr. Replogle said. “Several antibiotic producers underwent biochemical analysis and DNA sequencing. Additionally, students performed a crude extraction of their antibiotics to evaluate activity. Isolates will be deposited in the Tiny Earth Chemistry Hub for continued analysis with the hope that unique antibiotics will be discovered.”