Soil richness is not measured only in oil or diamonds. A team of scientists from Inserm and the University of Paris has launched a participatory science project to look for bacteria in the earth under our feet. “Nearly 80% of the antibiotics used today come from bacteria in the soil, figure Vincent Libis, co-head and researcher at Inserm. However, the search for new antibiotics has stagnated since the 1970s and the existing molecules are having less and less effect. »
One million deaths from antibiotic resistance in 2019
With time and evolution, pathogens become resistant to treatment. A study published last January in the medical journal The Lancet estimated that 1.2 million deaths worldwide in 2019 were due to this antibiotic resistance. And given the time required for the development of new molecules, we must get down to the task now.
“Bacteria produce chemical defenses to protect themselves from other bacteria.describes the researcher. It is these chemical molecules that we adapt to give rise to new antibiotics”. Examples include erythromycin, which is given to people suffering from angina or bronchitis, or tetracycline, used in human medicine but also in animal health. Unearthing new bacteria makes it possible to find potential new molecules, and therefore new antibiotics.
A teaspoon of soil
But for that, we have to examine our environment and a research team is not enough. Hence the idea of the “science with a shovel” program, which appeals to people of good will to collect a small sample of soil, the equivalent of a teaspoon, almost everywhere in mainland France. The sample should be taken from below the first layer of surface soil, and put in a freezer bag or small pouch.
It is also necessary to note the GPS coordinates of the place of harvest, then to send its sample by La Poste (1). Pay attention to the place of sampling: some areas are protected and it is forbidden to take soil there, even for a participatory science mission. “We rely a lot on the creativity of citizens, to look in places we would not have thought of”, hopes Vincent Libis. For the moment, a dozen French municipalities have already been sampled, with around 400 samples.