Creatively Discovering Science Through Antibiotics

October 7, 2015

Science is not only knowledge, but is an ongoing activity where the application of this knowledge can help explain nature in a reproducible way.

This sentiment uttered by professor Linda Kinkel at the beginning of the Plant Pathology freshman seminar course “Antibiotics: Promise, Profits, and Pitfalls” set a precedent for a day of hands-on laboratory exercises where undergraduate students spent the day applying the teachings of Kinkel and fellow professor Carol Ishimaru on the scientific method by evaluating various antibiotics and learning about pharmaceutical drug discovery. The seminar focuses on providing a holistic perspective of antibiotics for undergraduates across the University with topics ranging from antibiotics in the natural world, drug development and patent law, and media perceptions of antibiotics, in order to help the next generation of students develop scientific literacy and critical thinking skills.

The topic of the day’s lecture focused on how science always starts with making informed observations of the natural world, so undergraduates evaluated how various antibiotics, as produced by microbes, effectively protect against pathogens. Using this data students were then asked to formulate a hypothesis about which microbial isolates they might chose if they were a member of a drug discovery unit for a major pharmaceutical company. When looking to answer this question students analyzed their data to see how an antibiotic’s spectrum of activity might influence their decision, and what other questions would need to be answered, such as cost of development and levels of toxicity present in the antibiotic, before the drug should be developed.

Not only were students asked to critically think about science, but also encouraged to implement creativity into science. “The starting point for doing science is your idea,” said Kinkel. With continued development of courses like this the Department of Plant Pathology hopes to get students to discover science creatively.