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Researchers look to Great Salt Lake for life-saving cures

Great Salt Lake
Posted at 11:49 AM, Nov 04, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's Great Salt Lake has been in the news because of its alarmingly low water levels, but it's still an important resource to find life-saving medicines, according to a report from the Salt Lake Tribune.

Microorganisms from the lake bed are used by scientists in hope of finding curatives such as penicillin and antibiotics, which were also derived from living organisms.

One such researcher is University of Utah Professor Jaclyn Winter, who is working with doctoral students from her lab to analyze sediment that she says could be "a key cornerstone in drug development and drug discovery.”

For example, she's found microorganisms that look promising as a way to fight drug-resistant strains of E. coli.

Microorganisms and the chemicals they produce are tested to see if they destroy germs, and if they do, may be able to be reproduced synthetically to make pharmaceuticals, according to Winter.

They can also be used to increase effectiveness of chemicals or reduce harmful side effects.

“Once we have that genetic material, we can tweak it,” Winter said.

Westminster College’s Great Salt Lake Institute (Institute), founded in 2008, also supports research and community engagement with the lake, including the effects of the historically low water levels.

READ: The Great Salt Lake, depleted by the drought, hits its lowest water level in recorded history

According to Institute Coordinator Jaime Butler, a dried-up lake would mean the loss of 380 bird species that call it home, and the potential for heavy metals to be blown over surrounding areas in a windstorm, poisoning residents.

But there is movement toward preventing this from happening.

“We do have people that have been working on these issues for a long time,” Butler said. “We’re set up for success in Utah, as far as working together.”