Show Details

Drugs from Dirt

January 29, 2015

Citizen scientists help map out nature’s pharmacy.



Unearthing new drugs. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Humans may have conquered all of Earth’s surface, but its soil is still terra incognita. And according to Rockefeller University biochemist Sean Brady, the countless undiscovered microbes living in soil present an enormous opportunity.

SEAN BRADY (Rockefeller University):

Most of our antibiotics, most of our anti-cancer agents come from bacteria, and the single most productive source for getting bacteria is actually dirt.


But most of those soil bacteria can’t be grown in the lab. So Brady is extracting microbial DNA from soil, and putting it into bacteria that can be cultured and studied. And through a website called Drugs from Dirt, he’s mapping bacterial diversity with the help of citizen soil samplers from around the world. The goal isn’t to develop those samples, but to encourage others.

SEAN BRADY (Rockefeller University):

And I think every country will have its own little pharmacy of molecules in their soil, and it’s just a matter of beginning to encourage people to go look in their environment.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

To learn more about the Drugs from Dirt project, visit