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This Woman Is Exploring Deep Caves to Find Ancient Antibiotic Resistance

"Hazel’s like the Lara Croft of microbiology.”

This story appears in VICE magazine's Dystopia and Utopia Issue. Click HERE to subscribe to VICE magazine.

After exploring a cave, your clothes take on a certain smell. It’s earthy, the essence of dirt and dampness. Some cavers like to pick up their coveralls and take a deep sniff to get a caving fix between trips. They covet the smell, protect it.

Hazel Barton doesn’t do this. She’s an avid caver, but she’s also a microbiologist. She knows that the smell comes from compounds made by a microbial phyla called Actinomycete, which decomposes organic materials. Before entering a cave, she washes those bugs away, ties back her auburn hair, and takes care not to spill a single crumb of food—it can feed a million microbes for months. She needs to be as clean and unobtrusive as possible.

Deep in the recesses of the earth, she’s not just caving for the thrill; she’s also collecting microbes whose lack of outside contamination is their greatest asset and that could help us deal with a growing threat: antibiotic resistance. Continue reading on Tonic.