Antibiotic Resistance Voted Biggest Science Challenge


The British public (and perhaps a few other folk with creative IP addresses) have selected resistance to antibiotics as the scientific challenge at the heart of a $16 million prize fund.

As we covered recently, it’s part of the Longitude prize, a modern take on an 18th century government contest to find a way to measure longitude; a contese that led to the creation of the marine chromoter.

This time organizers drew up a shortlist of six challenges and a public vote decided which will be developed into a contest. Professor Alice Roberts announced the result live on BBC television (pictured).

Organizers will now develop the topic of antibiotics into a specific challenge and criteria, which will be announced in the fall.

According to the organizers, the key to the problem is that:

The World Health Organization estimates that antibiotics treatments add an average of 20 years to all of our lives. But in the 80 years since the discovery of penicillin, our overuse of antibiotics has put pressure on bacteria to evolve resistance, leading to the emergence of untreatable superbugs that threaten the basis of modern medicine.

The specific issue is that doctors often have to prescribe “broad spectrum antibiotics” because they don’t have enough detail about a specific patient’s condition. That broad spectrum is too easy for microbes to develop resistance towards — in effect, it becomes too predictable.

In contrast, more targeted antibiotics for specific conditions and cases will be harder for microbes to develop resistance towards. With that in mind, although the precise details will be confirmed later, the winners of the prize will have to meet a challenge along the lines of ” create a cheap, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use point of care test kit for bacterial infections.”