From deep-sea sponges to dragonfly wings: Superbug research from unexpected places

Today, more than ever, we’re aware of antibiotic resistance as a growing, global problem that desperately needs an answer. According to recent reports, by 2050 superbugs could kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined.

Petri dishes showing bacteria cultures.
Over the past five years alone, in partnership with the other UKRI councils, we’ve made huge efforts to better understand this threat and find solutions –  together investing £44 million in 78 UK projects and £41 million in projects worldwide. Collaboration helps fire up imagination, insight and innovation. That’s why we’ve brought together researchers with different skills and experiences across the sciences, engineering, arts and humanities.

Understanding emergence and spread
Some of the deadliest bacterial species that have acquired antibiotic resistance live in the guts of all mammals. Understanding how these bacteria can travel between animals and humans, through the food chain, and across manmade and natural environments, is the first step in our battle against antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

For this reason, a ‘One Health’ consortium of UK and Thai researchers are examining the potential drivers of AMR in the Mae Klong-Ta Chin Basin. The region has been picked for its incredible diversity of landscapes, populations and land use. There are villages, towns and industrial zones, with communities of varying socio-economic and education levels, fish farms, fruit orchards and rice paddies.

Closer to home, a team from the Universities of Warwick and Exeter and the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology have scrutinised 69 areas of the river Thames and discovered high levels of drug-resistant bacteria near some wastewater treatment works, showing how easily resistance can spread when we flush our loo.

Source and further reading: Medical Research Council

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