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The Data: Diving for Antibiotics

Marcus Rose and Emily Addington are giving new meaning to getting one’s fix from diving. The two are actively engaged in collecting underwater biological samples from a seawater loch in Scotland, in an attempt to discover potential new antibiotics. Their venture, Project Baseline Loch Long, works closely with researchers from the Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Strathclyde. Fellow citizen scientists can read about their adventures here. Is there a Project Baseline in your diving?

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By Marcus Rose and Emily Addington

Project Baseline Loch Long (PBLL) team members are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to collaborate with conservation and scientific research organizations, and 2019 is already looking promising. Loch Long is a saltwater sea loch approximately 20 miles long and around one to two miles wide with depths ranging from six to 56 meters. The loch is the host to vast sea life ranging from plant life, small crustaceans, fish, and eels to large marine mammals such as porpoise and seals. One of our regular divers is a postgraduate student at Strathclyde University, and his links with the university have introduced PBLL to Diving for Antibiotics.

Diving for Antibiotics uses citizen science divers to collect underwater samples in an attempt to discover uncharacterized species of actinobacteria. Actinobacteria are found ubiquitously in soil across terrestrial, fresh-aquatic, and marine environments where they produce antimicrobial secondary-metabolites to compete with other microorganisms. These secondary-metabolites constitute approximately 70% of naturally derived antibiotics in clinical use today, as well as much of the anti-cancer, anti-anthelmintic, anti-viral, antihypertensive, and antifungal compounds. However, novel antibiotic discovery is now rare, as terrestrial strains of actinobacteria have been extensively explored and exploited.

Photo by Marcus Rose.

Unlike terrestrial sources, the marine biosphere has been relatively undersampled and holds enormous potential for the discovery of new actinobacteria species, which may produce novel antibiotics. In 2009-2010, 2,014 novel natural products were discovered from marine environments and in 2010, 300 previously unknown natural products were isolated from marine microorganisms and species of phytoplankton. In summary, the ocean holds great potential for the discovery of new antibiotics, and citizen divers are a useful and economic way of collecting samples.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is predicted to become a leading cause of death globally by 2050. By current estimates there are approximately 700,000 deaths per year associated with antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections, predicted to rise to 10 million by 2050. As antibiotics in clinical practice today become ineffectual, it is critical that new antibiotics become available.

Photo by Emily Addington.

In order to generate interest in this collaboration opportunity, interested divers who apply will be sent a collection box containing a leaflet summarizing what antibiotics are, how they are discovered, why AMR is a global crisis, and finally, the importance of marine microorganisms in the future of antibiotic discovery. A guide to collecting a sample, along with a list of required information such as coordinates of the sampling location, will also be sent.

The divers will be given a sterile collection tube with their own personal sample number, and a prepaid postage label allowing them to return their sample by post to the University of Strathclyde. They will then be able to use their personal sample number to track the progress of their sample on the Instagram: @diveforantibiotics. This Instagram channel will feature photographs of the isolates and describe how the bacteria are isolated, sequenced, and tested for production of bioactive metabolites. At the end of the project, participating divers will be invited to Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences for an afternoon of talks about AMR and antibiotic discovery given by Ph.D. students.

The Project Baseline Loch Long team is extremely excited about this latest collaboration, and we look forward to tracking the progress of collected samples. We’ll send a report once our samples have been submitted and their fate is known.


Marcus Rose is a GUE instructor, passionate project diver, and is joint project manager (with Ryan Mcshane) for the Project Baseline Loch Long site. Teaching mostly on the west coast of Scotland, he also enjoys building collaborations with local scientists and conservation groups, and travelling to cave dive. His recent participation in the Sardinia Cave Project was a highlight for him.


Emily Addington is an EPSRC-funded Ph.D. student in molecular microbiology at the University of Strathclyde. Her research focuses on the evolution of bacterial virulence via investigations of the Actinobacteria Streptomyces coelicolor. As part of a Microbiology Society funded project, Emily is also interested in discovering novel marine actinobacteria with potential anti-microbial secondary metabolites and in public outreach and engagement. Emily holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science and a Master of Research in biomolecular science from the University of East Anglia, England.

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A Journey Into the Unknown

Sailor, diver, and professional software implementation consultant turned adventure blogger Michael Chahley shares his quest to discover the unknowns of our world by stepping out of his comfort zone. Are you ready to take the plunge?

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By Michael Chahley

The engine roars to life, launching me out of a deep slumber and into reality. “That’s not good,” I think out loud. Rocking in my bunk inside the sailboat, I realize the wind is still driving us against the ocean swell. We do not need to be using the engine right now, so why is it on? Bracing myself, I climb into the cockpit as Paul, the captain, swings us over hard to starboard while staring wide-eyed ahead into the darkness. We are on a collision course with an Indonesian fishing boat shrouded in darkness, and it’s close enough to violate the ceiling of a safety stop. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I count a handful of men staring back at us as they also take evasive action. One of them is standing at the railing brushing his teeth while we run parallel alongside one another for a moment. 

Anchored in an isolated atoll in Wakatobi, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Amanda-Sailing.com.

Luckily for us we didn’t collide. I went back to sleep with another adventure to share. If you were to meet me today, working a full-time job in Canada alongside Lake Ontario as it freezes, it would not be obvious I spent two of the past four years traveling. Balancing a life of adventure with one of responsibility, I feel fortunate to have explored some very remote places in our world–both above and below the water. But before I was able to explore the Pacific Ocean, I first had to navigate a personal path of conflicting identities in order to find the confidence to jump into the unknown. 

Water Baby

For my entire life, I have been more comfortable in the water than on land. My childhood memories consist of watching my parents dive under the water for hours at a time and swim in the currents of the Thousand Islands in the Great Lakes region of North America. I followed the predictable path of our society. I worked hard, achieved an engineering degree, and secured a job. Fortunately, I was able to continue exploring the outdoors with this busy life. Long weekends were spent diving in the Great Lakes or camping in the back-country. I was comfortable enough; however, there was no real satisfaction in my life. As the years ticked by, the gap between my reality and dream world grew. Something had to change, but I did not know where to find the catalyst. 

Going for an afternoon swim in the Marshall Islands.
Photo by Emma Goudout.

Like any other armchair traveler, I idolized the explorers from the Age of Discovery. Adventure books weighed down my bookshelf while travel documentaries glowed on the TV screen in my room at night. I understood what made me happy, but I was unsure of what I stood for and believed in. I was living a life in conflict with the trajectory I wanted to be on, but I had no idea of how to become an ‘explorer’ who lived a life in pursuit of the unknown. While commuting to work each day in a crowded subway, I daydreamed of sailing the oceans and exploring the underwater world. As I grew increasingly more frustrated, one day I unloaded my concerns on a friend. They had the nerve to say I was ‘living in a dream world’ and needed to focus more on my real life. This hurt to hear at first, but then it dawned on me! If dreaming was a part of my life, then why couldn’t I make it a reality, too? This was the catalyst I needed. 

I finally understood that even though others might see my dreams as frivolous, it was okay for me to follow a path that was meaningful for me. Like a weight lifted from my shoulders, I discovered it was okay to be uncomfortable with the status quo. With this in mind, I quit my job, packed a bag, and with no concrete plans, bought a one-way ticket to go halfway around the world.

One-Way Ticket To Ride

Exploring a shipwrecked fishing vessel in the Marshall Islands.
Photo by Michael Chahley.

I found myself flying to the Marshall Islands with a one-way ticket to meet someone I had only communicated with over email. The customs officer did not find it amusing, but after some tactful negotiation, I was let into the country and even offered a free ride to the marina. It was 2016, and I was on my way to meet Tom, the captain of a 53-foot, steel-hull ketch named Karaka. Tom invited me to join his crew and help them sail across the Pacific. Even though blue-water sailing was new to me, for him it was a lifestyle. He was nearing the end of a 12-year circumnavigation after saving Karaka from a scrapyard in Hong Kong. Along the way, he would have crew join him as a co-operative, which is how I ended up spending eight months on his boat exploring the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea.

Trying out the local mode of transportation in Papua New Guinea.
Photo by Chelsea Richards
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When not visiting uninhabited atolls, the outer communities we visited were so isolated that we were asked to help out by delivering fuel, cooking oil, and mail. During this trip, our daily routine consisted of free diving on pristine coral reefs, gathering coconuts, and sharing meals with some of the friendliest people in the world. From spearfishing with the local fishermen, exploring the shipwrecks and ruins of World War II, and partaking in long walks on the beach or up a volcano, it was a new adventure every day. As a shipwreck enthusiast, I am incredibly grateful to have had an opportunity to free dive to within sight of the HIJMS Nagato in the lagoon of Bikini Atoll and to dive on Japanese Zeros in waters of Rabaul. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself exploring these regions of the world; reality had transcended my childhood fantasies.

Visiting a village in Papua New Guinea.
Photo courtesy of Amanda-Sailing.com.

Just like diving is for many of us, once I started traveling, the passion grew and is now a core part of my identity. Flash-forward to earlier this year, and I am back in the capital of Papua New Guinea helping Paul and his partner repair their 34-foot sloop named Amanda-Trabanthea for a journey out of the country and into Indonesia. Adventurers themselves, they had just returned to their boat after sailing through the Northwest Passage. Over three months we managed to visit some of the most hospitable and isolated regions of Papua New Guinea and Eastern Indonesia. I was lucky enough to go diving in Port Moresby, the Banda Islands, Wakatobi, Komodo, Lombok, and Bali. By the time we survived the near-collision with a fishing boat, I had come to expect the unexpected and cherish the exciting moments in life.

Explore The Unknown

Day trip with some friends on Ailuk Atoll.
Photo by Michael Chahley.

Diving and sailing share a lot of similarities. Both are perfect for getting off the well-beaten track to explore places of our world few have ever seen. We must be confident in our abilities and have the appropriate training to safely handle the unexpected. A strong technical understanding of the physics and equipment required to operate safely is very important. Meticulous planning is essential for completing long passages and technical dives. But most importantly, it is the adventure from exploring new places that makes it so fun and gives us reasons to continue doing this. I strongly believe that communities such as GUE play a pivotal role in society by encouraging and promoting exploration within the individual. With time, I will combine my passion for both diving and sailing to help discover some of the most remote and beautiful corners of our world. If you have never sailed before, I highly recommend it.

I am back in Toronto where this journey began. I’m working full-time; however, this time with a much more solid understanding of myself and as well as a greater appreciation of the world we share. Only by stepping outside of my comfort zone to explore our world I was able to overcome the uncertainty that kept me from living an authentic life. Author Dale Dauten put it succinctly, “Success is an act of exploration. That means the first thing you have to find is the unknown. Learning is searching; anything else is just waiting.’’ 

My backyard swimming pool in Micronesia.
Photo by Michael Chahley
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During my travels, I realized that we cannot let others define us. We must reach beyond personal boundaries, take a risk, and venture into the unknown. In doing so, we become explorers in our own reality, which is the only reality that matters. So, rather than daydream about future adventures, we need to believe we can incorporate those dreams into our lives. All we have to do is to dare to take that first step into the unknown. 


Michael Chahley is a professional software implementation consultant and an industrial engineering graduate from the University of Toronto. A finalist for GUE’s 2019 NextGEN Scholarship, he is a passionate diver, photographer, outdoor enthusiast, and an experienced traveller. Founder of the online blog Nothing Unknown.com, Michael is on a quest to discover the unknowns of our world and share them with you. He lives in Toronto, Canada, and can be reached at @NUDiscover on social media or his email mchahley@nothingunknown.com.

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