Soil brings hope for cures for cancer, infectious diseases

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OKLAHOMA – You might call it dirty research, but scientists in Oklahoma said the dirt in your backyard could hold the key to curing cancer and infectious diseases.

The University of Oklahoma Natural Products Discovery Group is collecting just one small scoop of dirt from yards across the country.

They’re studying the dirt in hopes of making big advances in medicine.

“Most people walk around not understanding the value of soil,” said Candace Coker with the ‘Thousands Strong’ project.

“If you pick up an average handful of soil, you’ve literally got tens of thousands of microbes living in it,” said Dr. Robert Cichewicz, an OU professor.

Microbes they are studying in hopes of finding cures for things like cancer or infectious diseases.

It’s research they can’t do alone.

They are relying on samples from backyards across the country.

“When the dirt comes in, we culture the fungi out of those soil samples,” Cichewicz said. “We grow them up into a form that we can then extract the molecules and test them against these different disease targets.”

The fungi from samples are grown in a lab.

Each step of the process is tracked online, allowing the person who sent the sample in to see just what comes from their soil.

“It’s exciting for kids to take that scoop of dirt that they can’t see that anything is in it and then look at the pictures online of what grew from it,” Coker said.

So far, they have samples from every state.

However, in order for the program to continue, they are needing donations not just of soil but money to help cover the cost of the soil collection kits.

“It costs money, real money to ship dirt back and forth,” Cichewicz said.

The cost of the kits is not covered by the funding researchers already receive, so they’ve launched a campaign called ‘Thousands Strong,’ a one-month effort to raise $15,000 to pay for the cost of the kit supplies and the shipping.

The funds will ensure those who provide a sample can do so without any out of pocket cost.

“Having this program be free to those individuals really helps with participation,” Cichewicz said.

The fundraising campaign started May 16th and will last through June 16th.

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