Humankind versus microbes: who is winning the war of Antimicrobial Resistance?
The world is running out of antibiotics. The current modern Age of antibiotics started in the early 1900s with the pioneering work of Paul Ehrlich who discovered the antibacterial effects of dyes and who in 1909 discovered the arsenic-based Salvarsan to treat syphilis. Then came the famous discovery in 1928 by Alexander Fleming of penicillin, followed in the 1940s by the development of a purification method for the antibiotic by Howard Florey and Ernst Chain at the University of Oxford. Together with the discovery of sulphonamides during the 1930s, all these discoveries led to a Golden Age of antibiotics, lasting over 20 years, in which 20 new classes of antibiotics were discovered (mainly originating from microorganisms) and later modified or chemically synthesised. Millions of lives have been saved from serious infections including pneumonia and sepsis; penicillin alone is thought to have saved 80 – 200 million lives. But scientists noticed early on that bacteria are able to generate resistance to antibiotics. These ‘superbug’ bacteria develop an ability to overcome the killing action of antibiotics and hence become able to grow unaffected in their presence. Bacteria are able to fight back. Scientists responded by discovering more structurally-diverse antibiotics (analogues) and in the ‘war’ to overcome resistance over 140 antibiotics have been developed for use in humans over the past 80 years. But since the Golden Age, only 2 new classes of antibiotics have emerged; there are considerable scientific barriers to discovering the next generation of antibiotics because the ‘low-hanging fruit’ has been plucked. Overcoming microbial resistance by discovering new antibiotic classes is getting tougher. This presentation explores some of the approaches now being used to identify new antibiotic classes and/or overcome resistance, from development of synthetic antibiotics and exploitation of genomics through to what we can learn from Amazon ants, marine sponges and Komodo dragons.
The Schools of Biosciences, Physics and Astronomy, Pharmacy and Chemistry have been jointly hosting a series of public science lectures for many years, following on from the successful lectures organised for the International Year of Astronomy (2009), Int. Year of Chemistry (2011), and the series organised by the East Midlands British Science Association.
These lectures which are open to all and free to attend take place once a month (usually third Thursday of each month) at 6pm in lecture theatre B1 in the Physics building.
If you would like any more information about the series or would like to be added to the mailing list please contact
Hilary Collins (School of Pharmacy) [email protected]
Chris Staddon (School of Physics and Astronomy) [email protected]