by Todd Kelson
In June 2015, Simon Hernandez and I traveled to the Jordan University of Science and Technology in Irbid and spent 5 days training 7 professors from 6 different universities in Iraq on how to implement the Small World Initiative at their universities. Funding was provided by a Biosecurity Engagement grant to the American Society for Microbiology. The training was much like what we are doing in the USA: all mornings were spent in lecture as we learned about this program and how to design a curriculum around it. The afternoons were spent in lab working through each of the procedures. By the end of the week, most had found antibiotic producers in the local soil and were excited to take SWI back to their country.
Since this initial training, many of the professors have been able to implement at their own institutions, and science undergraduate students in Iraq are now searching for antibiotic producers in their native soil.
Sometimes, I complain about the lack of equipment in my own lab, but it wasn't until I heard of the dire circumstances under which Iraqi faculty are forced to work that I began to appreciate what I really have. Some have had to postpone teaching SWI at their schools due to budgetary concerns or lack of proper equipment; others have had to purchase their chemicals and PCR primers out of their own pocket money. Yet, despite all of these challenges, the students in Iraq who have gone through the SWI experience are enthusiastic about science and had a great experience in lab. They have even contributed to the vast amount of data that is being collected by undergraduate students around the world.
We are all part of a global network of scientists who are addressing a global threat in antibiotic resistance. Our efforts are far reaching both in space and in time. Bravo to all of you students who are making the world a safer place to live in!