Bioprospecting for new medicine

Caitlin Carlson, Associate Research Specialist
Department of Bacteriology
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

3:01 – Total Time
0:14 – What is bioprospecting
0:41 – Looking under rocks
1:01 – Many insects to collect
1:22 – The search for new antibiotics/antifungal compounds
1:41 – Crushing insects for science
2:03 – The adventure
2:25 – Products to market
2:41 – Patents to apply for
2:52 – Lead out


Sevie Kenyon: Prospecting for biology, we’re visiting today with Caitlin Carlson, Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon. Caitlin, what is bioprospecting?

Caitlin Carlson: Bioprospecting is the search for plant, animal, and bacterial species from which medicinal drugs and commercially valuable compounds can be obtained. We are on the front line of discovering a new antibiotic or a new antifungal. Bioprospecting to me, is traveling to different locations throughout the United States and looking for insects that I can bring back to the lab.

Sevie Kenyon: Caitlin, can you describe what it looks like when you’re prospecting for an insect?

Caitlin Carlson: Well it’s pretty simply, I basically decide which area to go to and then I see if there’s areas where I can turn over rocks or take some bark or if there’s a river bed. Just anything that looks interesting where I think there is going to be a lot of insects that I can collect.

Sevie Kenyon: And what kind of insects are you looking for?

Caitlin Carlson: We’re really interested in grasshoppers, centipedes, we love ants, social insects such as bees or dragonflies, so anything from a little house fly to something as exotic as let’s say a scorpion or a slug, or a honeybee.

Sevie Kenyon: What is it about these insects that you are looking for?

Caitlin Carlson: We’re looking at specifically for their microbes and we’re looking to culture those microbes as many different species as we can to see if they could possibly produce anti-microbial compounds.

Sevie Kenyon: Caitlin, can you describe how you find these microbes on the insects?

Caitlin Carlson: I’ll collect an insect, maybe from under a rock or river bed and then from there we’ll bring it back to the lab where we will crush it, kind of like an elementary school kid crushes a bug, and then we will plate it onto a special media. The media that really makes the bacteria want to grow.

Sevie Kenyon: And Caitlin, what kind of luck has your prospecting brought to you so far?

Caitlin Carlson: I’ve been very lucky, I’ve been able to travel to multiple places in the United States. I’ve transected all of Alaska as well as New Mexico, we’ve also been to Florida, Hawaii, all over Wisconsin and we’re adding more places as we can.

Sevie Kenyon: And what do you hope to gain from these microbes?

Caitlin Carlson: We’re looking for new and novel natural products. That’s where the bioprospecting comes in, these are products that could be commercially viable at some point. That could be turned into an antibiotic or some sort of antifungal that could be used in a clinical setting.

Sevie Kenyon: Has your lab discovered some novel new things?

Caitlin Carlson: We have, we’ve discovered about 15 novel natural products from insect associated bacteria. So we have about 5 moving into clinical applications currently.

Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with Caitlin Carlson, Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and I’m Sevie Kenyon.

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