From time to time we will use BiologyOnTheBox to aggregate coverage on the same story from a number of different broadcast sources. This is one such post.
In 2014, David Cameron established a Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, under the chairmanship of economist Jim O’Neill (the man previously credited with coining the acronym BRIC to group together the emerging economies in Brazil, Russia, India and China). In December 2014 The review published their first report Antimicrobial Resistance: Tackling a crisis for the health and wealth of nations followed in February 2015 with their second, Tackling a Global Health Crisis: Initial steps.
The press coverage described below comes from 14th May 2015, the day on which the Review published their most important report to date, Securing New Drugs for Future Generations: The pipeline of antibiotics. Publication of the report garnered widespread coverage, including the news items documented here. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but reflects the kinds of issues raised across the day (programmes are listed here in chronological order).
This file is actually a splice of two sections from the programme; a prefilmed package in which Fergus Walsh (1:50) gives background to the situation and includes an interview a woman who is immunocompromised following transplant surgery and therefore reliant on effective antimicrobials. The second part is one of the many interviews conducted with Jim O’Neill over the course of the day. He emphasises that this is a global problem, needing a global solution and that China may play a crucial role in their forthcoming role as chair of the G20. I was struck by his use of the notion of “enlightened self-interest” as a motivator for the pharma industry to become re-engaged in antimicrobial production. Continue reading
Research led by Roy Kishony uses a “morbidostat” to deliberately develop antibiotic resistant bacteria
Broadcaster: BBC 2
Review by Josh Sutton
Antibiotic resistance in bacteria is currently one of the largest problems facing modern medicine. The rise in cases of multiple drug resistance tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are only the best-known examples of a wider issue. In this Horizon documentary from 2012, the increasing threat of antibiotic resistance is covered, as well as reflections on the new treatments and drugs that scientists are developing to combat the growing resistance threat.
The importance of antibiotic resistance is immediately highlighted in the programme, with the story of a soldier put into a critical condition after his legs were blown off. His perilous state was actually due to an infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria he went on to develop: MRSA, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter baumannii. This infection could only be treated with antibiotics of last resort, which were toxic to both the bacteria and the soldier himself. Continue reading
A live pond-dip failed to locate a Great Crested Newt
Broadcaster: Channel 4
The conflict between housing and infrastructure development and protected species such as the Great Crested Newt are often mentioned in the news. On this occasion, C4 News correspondent Tom Clarke visits Dorset prompted by concerns that changes to the European Habitats Directive might be watering down protection of endangered species.
Migration of cuckoos has been tracked for four years
Broadcaster: Radio 4
Genre: Radio, interview
A four minute interview with Chris Hewson from the British Trust for Ornithology about satellite tracking of a cuckoo, also called “Chris”, over the past four years. Chris (the cuckoo) has visited 28 countries in that time and has made four journeys over the Sahara. Prior to this project, very little was known about the migration of cuckoos which are a species in serious decline. Cuckoos seem to all congregate in the Congo, but get there via two different routes – via Italy or via Spain. It appears that going via the Spanish route is much more perilous to the birds.
More details of the BTO project can be found on their website (this link).
Rothamsted has grain samples going back more than 100 years
Broadcaster: BBC 1
A 90 second clip from the BBC’s Countryfile series in which presenter Tom Heap visits the Rothamsted Research Institute and sees how the “heritage varieties” in their grain archive are being used to reintroduce desirable traits into wheat. Includes footage of a camera drone to examine the health of plants in a field trial.
Edward Jenner made a crucial breakthrough in developing vaccination, though his experiment was unethical by modern standards
Broadcaster: BBC 1
The role of Edward Jenner in developing vaccination has been told many times on TV. This 6.5 minute clip from a Countryfile “Heroes of farming” special visits Jenner’s house in Gloucestershire to tell the famous story. Drawing on the wisdom of local dairymaids, Jenner took pustules from people infected with cowpox and deliberately introduced material from the pustules into local children. This work would not get through an ethical review today!
Anita Rana then brings the story of vaccination up to date by visiting the Pirbright Institute, where a new vaccine against Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) is being developed. A vaccine against FMD already exists, but the production involves use of the live virus, with inherent risks. The new vaccine retains the protective element without the infective.
One sperm sample from a chosen bull might be used to father as many as 500 daughters
Broadcaster: BBC 1
This is a seven-minute clip from a “heroes of farming” special episode of Countryfile. This section looks at the importance of selective breeding of animals in agriculture. It looks back to Robert Bakewell, pioneer of the deliberate mating of selected livestock to breed in certain traits, and follows it all the way through to the contemporary applications. These include the potential of using modern electronic tags to make more scientifically-informed decisions about which animals are actually growing best, and cutting-edge genomic breeding. In the latter, male calves have their DNA analysed when they are a day old, so that their genes likely to improve yields of milk production in daughter cows can be checked. Sperm from bulls considered the best can then be collected and used in breeding programmes right around the world. The clip includes the amazing, and slightly disturbing, statistic that “Corinthian”, not yet two years old, has fathered about 10,000 daughters.
Ants used a different technique to dig if the “soil” was course or fine grained
Broadcaster: BBC 1
Genre: Magazine, News
A nice little piece of research from the Georgia Institute of Technology, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, in which researcher filmed ants digging in tubes filled with glass beads of different sizes. They found that the ants were able to adapt their digging style dependant upon the conditions. Interesting in its own right, there is nonetheless the obligatory “translational research” spin, suggesting the potential impact of this work in developing fire and rescue services.
There are two related but slightly different videos currently on the BBC news website: this link which includes more experimental footage; this link shows some robots that have been programmed using insights from ant research.
The new test looks for expression of a particular protein in the blood
Broadcaster: Sky News
Ovarian cancer has a high mortality rate because symptoms are often vague, allowing the disease to develop before it is properly diagnosed. This 2.4 minute clip from is from Sky News (though the same story was widely covered on other outlets on the same day). The piece reports findings from a new study in which a blood test looks for levels of a certain biomarker, a protein called CA125. The crucial thing in this study, which may pave the way for establishment of a screening programme, was the benefit of annual checks on the level of CA125 in a patient’s blood rather than a one-off check. It seems that absolute levels of the protein can be quite variable between different women, but a change in the level is a much more significant indicator of underlying developments. The approach of screening blood for cancer-related biomarkers is an emerging area in cancer treatment and might allow for screening for other variants too, such as prostate cancer.
Hayley Francies from the Sanger explains to Channel 4 reporter Tom Clark how the organoids are a more realistic tool for cancer research than typical monolayer cells
Broadcaster: Channel 4
This 3.2 minute clip from Channel 4 looks at the use of organoids. Scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute have, for the first time, grown tumours from 20 different colon cancer patients using matrigel to encourage the cells to form 3D “miniorgans” rather than growing in a monolayer as is more typical for cultured cells. Each organoid is different, reflecting the genetic errors in the donor, effectively a copy of the individual patients cancer grown in the lab. As a result a collection of tissues suitable for screening of existing and new drugs have been generated which may help both to select the most suitable drug for a given patient but also to improve our understanding of the cancers.