Red Dirt Diaries: Digging for Scientific Gold At OU
NORMAN, Oklahoma - The University of Oklahoma is home to the only program of its kind in the nation, and it involves thousands of dirt bags.
The Citizen Science Soil Collection Program encourages people from all over the country to send small dirt samples to Norman. The fungi in each sample is separated from the dirt and grown. That mold collected can lead to breakthroughs in medical science and even medications several years from now.
Penicillin was discovered from mold in 1928.
“It all starts with that soil and finding the right micro-organism,” said OU Regents’ Professor Robert Cichewicz.
So far, 4,000 samples from every U.S. state have been processed at OU.
“This isn’t just send us your dirt and say goodbye,” said Dr. Cichewicz.
In fact, you get the dirt details online, including pictures of the fungi found within your sample.
Two years ago, a soil sample from New Jersey provided a link to Ewing Sarcoma, a pediatric cancer which has no cure.
“We were able to select a compound with great selectivity for Ewing Sarcoma,” said Dr. Cichewicz, about the discovery.
Due to the soil testing, other breakthroughs in the fight against breast cancer, malaria and other illness have been made from the samples.
If you would like to request a soil sample kit visit: www.whatsinyourbackyard.org. The postage is paid for.
"One fungus that maybe capable making that molecule that is actually going to have an impact on society, could be sitting in your backyard right now,” said Dr. Cichewicz.