Antimicrobial resistance is not a scare story, it’s happening, the World Health Organisation warns.

The idea of antibiotics failing to work and medicine plunging back to the medieval ages seems ridiculous. However, the World Health Organisation, Center for Disease Prevention and Control and government funded research by Jim O’Neill have all now come out and said that it is a distinct possibility.

50,000 people die each year due to antibiotic resistant infections, a number that is projected to rise above the deaths by cancer by 2050, when resistance will cost the U.S 29 billion dollars each year in healthcare.

Antibiotic resistance builds up when bacteria aren’t fully exterminated by the antibiotics. In these cases, most of the bacteria are killed, but the strongest survive. The trouble is, doctors give out prescriptions far too easily, meaning that the bacteria are rarely wiped out.

America is especially guilty here, where private healthcare results in profits being more valuable than human lives. As such, doctors give out as much medicine as possible, regardless of the illness. As a result, America has a disgraceful healthcare system which is the least efficient in the world and one of the least effective amongst developed nations.

Worst of all is the meat industry which feed their animals low levels of antibiotics, as it prevents some infections and makes the livestock heavier. Low levels of antibiotic use and unsanitary conditions however, is the antibiotic resistant bacteria’s absolute dream. Worse still, these meat companies refuse to release information to scientists and so there’s no way of telling what resistance is building up.

Jim O’Neill says that the regression to medieval medicine is a genuine possibility, but easily preventable if governments and companies take responsibility and work together to improve antibiotic use and research into new antibiotics.

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The most extreme life on the planet. Part one: life in volcanos.

Yellowstone National Park, with each ring of colour due to a different microorganism.

For all its beauty, Yellowstone National Park is a terrifying place. If it erupted tomorrow, most of America would be drowned in ash, and they wouldn’t see sunlight for weeks. Add extreme pressures, no nutrients and oxygen depletion to the searing heat in volcanic pools and you can understand why we used to think life here was impossible.

However, those amazing dashes of red, green and yellows sweeping across the volcanic pools are not from the rocks but from microbial life which aren’t just tolerating the scorching heat, but need it to survive.

Apart from being a liiitle bit painful, if I jumped in the pool and tried to survive, my cell membranes would crumble, my enzymes and proteins would melt and my DNA simply unravel and fall apart. How is it then, that at 115°C we still find archaea (single celled organisms which are as different from bacteria as we are)?

To survive and grow, these archaea have ultra strong membranes to stop the cell from melting. Weirdly, they then pump salt into their cells, acting as a clamp to hold the protein and DNA structures together, so they don’t fragment. For food the ingenious and complicatedly named Sulfolobus acidocaldarius actually sticks and clings onto sulphur crystals and uses the hydrogen sulphide to gather energy.

Nothing so far has been found above 120°C as it is thought any large molecules will simply fall apart. But, we have been wrong before.

As an aside to why you should care, the first ever life, which has given rise to you, me and everything living almost definitely lived in a deep sea volcano. Furthermore, the enzyme used to replicate DNA and sequence entire genomes was isolated from a bacteria living in a volcano.

If you are interested, I will be writing about various extreme life in the near future, including life in space, other planets, inside ice, rocks and salt and will be asking whether it is possible for an organism to live for 250 million years.

At Long Last, Predicting and Treating Dementia could Become a lot Easier.

Many of you may have been directly or indirectly affected by dementia, one of the most common brain disorders in the elderly. Scientists have routinely struggled to find reliable treatments and uncover why some people are more vulnerable than others, until now.

Neuroscientist Dr Choi proves for the first time that an enzyme named, ‘Nox1’ causes the death of brain cells and memory loss.

More exciting still, doctors can target and attack Nox1 with the substance, “apocynin” to reduce memory loss and brain damage in dementia patients.

Researchers fiddled with the brains of rats and let them loose in a chamber. Excitingly, after treatment with apocynin, fewer brain cells had died and the rats were remembering and finding a hidden, food-laden underwater platform with relative ease.

Despite being in its infancy, the work is undeniably exciting for dementia treatment.

Not only have we found a potential treatment in apocynin but we can monitor Nox1 activity to predict the most likely dementia sufferers. Elsewhere, studies have already begun to look at the role of Nox1 in other disorders as we continue to fight the war on brain disease.