Since 2017, interested citizen scientists can collect soil samples as part of the "Sample’ das Saarland" campaign and send them to the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS). Scientists at HIPS search for new types of myxobacteria in the samples, and grow and examine them in the laboratory. These globally distributed, predatory soil bacteria are capable of producing an enormous variety of chemical substances, so-called microbial natural products, which often represent excellent starting points for the development of drugs. At HIPS, the main focus is on molecules that are able to kill other bacteria. The idea behind this is that if myxobacteria can use these substances in the soil to hunt down other bacteria, scientists may be able to develop new drugs from the same substances to fight bacterial infections in humans. The focus is particularly on resistant pathogens for which the antibiotics available up to now can no longer be used with the usual success.
So far, citizen scientists have provided HIPS with over 700 soil samples from Saarland and other areas of Germany. From these samples, just as many new myxobacteria and several new natural products have already been identified. Some of these show promising properties and are therefore already being studied in more detail. To let the citizen scientists know what happens next with their soil samples, they receive feedback on which myxobacteria could be isolated and how they can advance research at HIPS.
The high potential of this project has now also been recognised by the MS Wissenschaft team: from May 2022, the HIPS citizen science campaign will go on a long cruise across Germany with the science ship. The MS Wissenschaft will dock at several locations - including Saarbrücken. During the entire cruise, there will be an exhibit on board that will give visitors an understanding of the important role of myxobacteria in drug research as well as information on the topic of antimicrobial resistance. In addition, visitors will have the opportunity to get their own sample collection kit on board the MS Wissenschaft and become active as citizen scientists themselves.
Preparations are already in full swing so that the MS Wissenschaft can set sail on time together with our myxobacteria. We will keep you up to date!