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Greetings everybody

Hope you have all had an amazing week. It is time for that lovely fix of science you get from me on Friday! This week is all about looking into the world's antibiotic resistance crisis; What is it? Why should we care? And how we have reached a crisis point?. Let's launch into it then.

What is antimicrobial resistance and why should we care about it? 

WHO (World Health Organisation) defines antimicrobial resistance as the change seen in bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites once exposed to antimicrobial drugs. Antimicrobial resistance carries the potential of plunging the world back into the dark ages of the pre-antibiotic era. What does this mean for me, you, your family and friends? Bad news. If we are unable to keep up with constantly changing microorganisms as they continue to accumulate resistance to antibiotics, deaths from the common cold and flu would rise and once simple and curable bacterial infections will lead to hospitalisation.

Let's talk money for a moment:

An independent report was published releasing the results of the impact Antimicrobial resistance would have on our future economy. I have extracted the main results from the report to read the full report click here.

They calculated the costs based on two inevitabilities in a world where antimicrobial resistance is common:

Increased mortality - deaths directly caused by the resistance of microorganisms would greatly reduce the size of the working-age population.

Increased morbidity -  these were characterised as being prolonged periods of time taken off work due to sickness. In the short-term, this would cause a temporary reduction in the workforce and in severe cases lead to a long term loss in team productivity.

It was estimated that by the year 2050 the world economy would have lost a whopping $2.1 trillion if the levels of resistance remain low. However, if this problem is not handled and resistance increases globally, the loss could peak at $124.5 trillion. If those numbers were not enough to highlight the effect this biological crisis has on the world, it is important to note that they are an underestimate. The report only considered two aspects of the economies challenges, the cost of healthcare (longer stays and an increased demand for intensive care) as well as funding to manufacture new antibiotics were not factored into the analysis.  A number not yet totalled but based on the underestimate... it's a cost best to keep as minimal as possible.

How did we get to this crisis point? 

Antimicrobial resistance is a story that stretches all the way back to the very first microorganisms. Chemical warfare has been a strategy used against rivalling microorganisms in competition for resources for centuries. Ever since the first weapon was used against another, microorganisms had to learn how to evade or neutralise those threats. Those chemicals used by one microorganism to disadvantage another or completely destroy it gave us the inspiration for many antibiotics, antivirals and antifungals on the market today. This widespread exposure of microorganisms to antimicrobials has led to accelerated development of resistance because we have placed the pressure on them to do so. In simple terms, the microbes must 'adapt' or 'perish'. Survival of the fittest. 

Since then, it has been an arms race between humanity's innovation of antimicrobials and the microorganisms ability to acquire resistance to it. If you are a betting person you would not like the 'odds' take a look at the image below showing the number of antibiotics released over the years. 

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In the picture below, a scientist is holding up two Petrii dishes. If you observe them closely you will notice that on each petri dish there are small white circles. Each one of those is a small paper disc dipped in a different antibiotic, the aim is to grow a certain type of bacterium on the plate and see how effective each antibiotic is at killing the bacteria.  The first petri dish shows you that the anitbiotics are effective at killing the bacterium (observe the zone surrounding each circle that is completly clear of any bacteria). Compare this to the second petri dish, the antibiotics are largely ineffective in killing of the bacteria - sadly this is the situation we are heading towards. 

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The overuse and misuse of current antibiotics:

Lack of new innovative drugs is not the only factor playing into the accelerated growth of antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms. Some of the blame falls on individuals within the public. Every time a doctor has prescribed you a course of antibiotics to help you with some form of bacterial infection, you begin taking it religiously out of desperation to feel better. As the symptoms begin to subside you start missing a dosage or two or perhaps, you skip the last day completely. This could leave the last few remaining bacterium behind and these guys are placed under a selective pressure 'adapt resistance' or 'die in the next dosage'. If you were a bacterium which would you pick? Below is an image showing just a few ways become resistant to antibiotics. 

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Antibiotic misuse relates to the scenario where a doctor gives you antibiotics for some form of infection that is so mild, that the body should be left to fight it on its own. For resistance to happen microorganisms must be in contact with some form of an antibiotic. In the case of giving antibiotics for a mild bacterial infection, you  may think what is the real harm. If it becomes resistant then the body will overcome it anyway, right? You would be correct. There would be no worry if the mild infecting bacterium kept the code of resistance to itself. The nasty thing about bacteria is that they like to share these codes for resistance with each other. Suddenly a more severely infecting bacterium has the code to resistance to multiple different drugs that it itself has never come in contact with. 

These are reasons that many have heard before and you will hear more and more as this issue becomes more and more public. I went in search for the lesser known ways of how we got to where we are today. 

The real monster lurking in our sewers:

Antibacterial products discarded into the sewage from our own communities and even hospitals   all collect to form the perfect reservoir for antibiotic resistance to cultivate. This hotspot of antibiotics, pollutants, detergents, and disinfectants creates such a hostile living environment that it truly drives the incentive of each bacterium to develop resistance to multiple chemicals designed to kill them. 

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There are many ways that resistant microorganisms can be transferred onto us. Take a look at the image below to check out a few more. 

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21st Century Problem in need of a Solution... 

We could panic after this post. You would be well within your right but as I have been told by one of my students I am incredibly optimistic. It will be a tough battle to fight, one of the greatest in our history perhaps due to it global impact on both our health as well as our economies. Microorganisms have had to adapt under increased exposure to antimicrobials. I believe that 'Necessity is the mother of invention' as such in the face of an enemy we will overcome it. We are left with two choices 'Adapt' or 'Die'. Which do you choose? 

Over and Out 
Greetings everybody!

Happy Friday and as always I hope you have had an awesome week. I was wondering what this week's post was going to be all about and then I watched the Emmys and became inspired by one of my favourite TV shows success 'Stranger Things' (love it so much!). Honouring the great series I decided for this weeks post to focus on a rather strange type of species known as the Sea Butterflies. 

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Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Gastropoda
Conservation Status: Unknown
Habitat: You would find these little navigating their way around the cold waters of the Northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
Size: They are literally the size of a lentil!(less than 1cm in length)

First things first. As indicated by this species phylogeny they may be called sea butterflies but make no mistake these beautiful little guys are pteropods (sea snails). Amazingly they swim through the water similar to how an insect flies, by flapping their 'feet' which have remarkably grown into wings. 

Like terrestrial snails, the majority of sea snails have shells on their backs these can range in both size and shape from, globules, whorls and even the shape of cones. Being the size of a lentil the dietary preferences for sea snails is restricted to smaller organisms - microscopic plankton. Indeed, sea butterflies rely solely on plankton. This may seem really unfair at first glance but the biomass (amount) of plankton vastly outweighs that of every marine animal in the oceans so really the sea snails have access to an untapped buffet. 

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However, it is the rules of the food chain that those that eat are also in the line to get eaten. Sea butterflies make up the very basis of multiple food chains. Their abundance, as well as their high levels of nutrition, make them desirable to cod, salmon and mackerel. Losing such a source would spell our disaster for marine food chains. 

How the sea butterfly spelled out the future of the world's oceans to scientists? 

It all began at the start of the millennium. Victoria Fabry (a biologist) found herself on a boat in the North Pacific, this is where she stumbled across a startling and worrying discovery of our oceans future in the contents of a jar. Victoria collected species of sea butterfly in plastic bottles and filled them with sea water after doing so she fastened the top of the bottle and left them for varying amount of time. 

Victoria returned back to her specimens and opened the bottle that had been left the longest. Her observations were able to be seen with the naked eye making it all the more troubling. The specimen continued to swim in the bottle but its beautiful pyramid shaped shell had begun to dissolve. 

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Victoria may not have been aware at the time of sealing her jars but she had simulated an environment whereby Carbon Dioxide levels in the water  had increased. Increasing Carbon Dioxide present in the water meant that the seawater became mildly acidic. Such a small increase in acidity of the sea water had such a large and visible impact on the shells of the sea butterflies. 

Image Source: process of ocean acidification

Our consumption of fossil fuels has led to a massive injection of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere a major factor in the greenhouse gas effect. This study made everybody stop looking into the skies in regards to climate change and focus on the oceans. Our oceans have played a huge role in absorbing some of the released Carbon Dioxide and in doing so have altered the very chemistry that makes up the world's oceans as well as adversely affecting the organisms that live in it. 

Well that was all for this week guys! The moral here is there are many strange things in the sea and if you haven't already you should watch stranger things! Have an awesome weekend
Over and out

Greetings everybody

Have you been looking forward to this weeks blog post? I hope you have because I have gathered some awesome facts to see you straight into the weekend. 

That brings us to the end of this weeks post! Have an amazing weekend everybody see you here same time next week. 

Over and out
Greetings everybody! 

Summer holidays are officially over and whether you are devastated by this news or super psyched I will be lending a helping hand come this academic term by launching a brand new blog series - Science Corner. Each post will have content satisfactory for KS3, GCSE and A-level biology students so keep a watchful eye out (may even feature the occasional topic on Chemistry and Physics). Lets get into it! 

What is genetic engineering?

This may sound like a very modern day application for genetics but this amazing process dates far back in our evolutionary history. Mankind has carried out genetic engineering for centuries in our endless pursuit for perfection, ever heard of 'selective breeding'? Selective breeding is the process of enhancing the traits in plants and animals that we see as desirable. This process is responsible for the variety of domestic dogs we have today (see picture below). Dachshunds (picture below) were engineered to hunt burrow dwelling animals and this is largely reflected in their size and shape to today. In fact many of the body plans seen in our lovely companions relate to a historical function!...  however the function behind a chihuahua escapes me...

Selective breeding based solely on physical desirable characteristics is so outdated! The newest fashion is going straight to the source of physical traits and variation - the animals DNA. With modern day techniques and DNA engineering methods becoming cheaper and quicker it is definitely a fashion catching on! With this technology scientists are now capable of inserting genes from one organism into another thereby altering the genetic makeup of that host organism. 

A brief history of Genetic Engineering: 

How does this process work and how could I make a glow in the dark bunny? 

There you have it! This is a key example that every Biology student on the planet needs to feel totally confident in explaining. As for the glow in the dark bunny question lets have a quick run through...

  1. Firstly find an animal that naturally 'glows in the dark' such as a jellyfish. 
  2. Next isolate the gene in the jellyfish responsible for its glowing properties. 
  3. Finally insert this gene (with the help of ligase) into a rabbit embryo cell and as the bunny develops the glow in the dark genes will be expressed allowing your bunny to finally be glow in the dark. YAY! science is so awesome only we get to make glow in the dark animals. 

Its not just all glow in the dark bunnies though. Genetic engineering has opened the doors to solutions for many  21st Century problems:

A lot of the credit for Genetic engineerings boost in popularity is down to a brand new technique known as CRISPR (soon to have its own blog post on here). The revolutionary CRISPR technique  has opened doorways to ending diseases, designer babies and even the chance of achieving eternal youth. For now lets focus on the role it has in ending the disease! 

Cure for HIV:  

In 2015, CRISPR was put forward as a way of cutting out HIV from our bodies cells. However it wasn't until 2016 that CRISPR was used to treat rats with HIV present in over 90% of their body cells. CRISPR therapy was injected into the bodies of these rats and the results were spectacular. When tested again over 50% of the rats cells were HIV free. This is a big win in the fight against HIV as well as other Retroviruses. 

Cancer treatment: 

One of the biggest challenges when treating cancer is that cancerous cells are our own body cells gone haywire! As such treatment must be targeted towards the cancer cells and not damage our bodies healthy cells in the process. Cancer has taken advantage of our immune system that has been trained to never attack and destroy our bodies cells. 
What role does CRISPR play in the future of cancer treatment? Simply put, CRISPR is editing our immune cells to become kick ass cancer hunters. Scientists are able to edit our bodies immune cells to make them super efficient at locating and destroying cancerous cells thereby reducing the use of more invasive treatments such as chemotherapy. 
In 2016 America and China bought the future to our present by genetically engineering immune cells for cancer treatment. Very promising! 

Genetic diseases: 

These cover a wide range of disorders from colour blindness straight through to Huntingtons disorder.  More than 3000 genetic diseases are caused by a single incorrect letter in our DNA strand. Our lovely CRISPR innovation through the use of another protein correcting molecule called Cas9 then get up and close with our DNA strand and correct that single incorrect letter! 

Alright Ladies and Gentlemen that marks the end of this weeks post! I hope you all enjoyed it and feel as though you got a lot of interesting information from it! I will see you here next week Friday. 

Over and Out

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