I've got the bug for bugs (apologies, couldn't help myself). I've finally realised what my calling in life is in the huge, complex world of Biology (it is the study of living organisms after all and we're far from simple). Regular readers will know that I'm doing an education project on antibiotic resistance this semester after writing my literature review on it last semester. Last week, I delivered a workshop to two A2 Biology classes and I loved it! Raising awareness of such an important issue made me accomplish what I wrote in my personal statement when I applied to study Biology at the same age as the students that I taught "I want to pass on biological knowledge and motivate others either through research or teaching", circle of life or what?
Why am I telling you all this? Well, today, I heard a fellow biologist tell some Year 8 students visiting the university "Nobody cares about bacteria" and unfortunately, he's not the first one I've heard say this but he's wrong. I had to bite my tongue from saying "you do realise you're more bacterial than human?" (as we have 10x more bacterial cells in our body than human) but I was oh so professional. So why am I defending our teeny tiny tenants? A lot of people have the mindset that bacteria are not important because they can't be seen with the naked eye but they're far more deadly than the sharks and big cats we're told to be terrified of from an early age. There has not been a new class of antibiotic since the lipopeptides were developed in 1987. If antibiotic resistance continues to increase, hip transplants will not be able to take place and that's the last thing we need with an ageing population. People receiving chemotherapy are immunosuppressed so are less efficient at fighting infection anyway and without antibiotics, they will be at real danger. Although antibiotics are used to kill bacteria/prevent bacterial growth, many antibiotics are also produced by bacteria. In January 2015, a new antibiotic called Teixobactin was found to be produced by soil living bacteria and so far, no resistance to Teixobactin has been reported. ~99% of bacterial species cannot grow in lab conditions but using iChip technology, the bacteria that produce Teixobactin were able to grow in small permeable membranes so single colonies of bacteria could grow and still access nutrients from the soil.
Soil, is my other potential calling in life and again is overlooked as the brown stuff that is used to grow the lawns at the Wimbledon courts, turns to mud when it rains at Parklife/ Glastonbury or is used to grow lots of crops in. Not only could soil be our source of new antibiotics, it could also be used to tackle another problem facing the world- climate change. Not only could we use soil as a terrestrial carbon pool to counteract the increasing carbon emissions but it could also be used more efficiently to produce more food for the increasing population, estimated to hit 9 billion Homo sapiens by 2050. Globally, soils contain 1500
billion tons of carbon which is more than double the carbon stored in the atmosphere. Reforestation and changing farming methods to no ploughing are some ways in which we can increase carbon storage in soil. How do bacteria fit in with soil and carbon storage? Well, what determines whether soil is a carbon source or pool is if the decomposing bacteria break down the carbon or release it back into the atmosphere via respiration.
I've just been looking up information on a Masters in Medical Microbiology and although I don't intend to go onto further study immediately after graduating, I would love to come back to it in a few years but want to take a break from education (particularly revising every Christmas) and go travelling hopefully!
If you'd like to find out more about antibiotic resistance and carbon sequestration then check out the links below and feel free to comment below and ask me about it:
TEDx talk on Antibiotic Resistance from the UK's Chief Medical Officer:
Teixobactin Nature article:
BBC Radio 4 Inside Science on the International Year of Soils: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04xrwhc
Until next time, take care.
Mancunian Sheep x