All over the world, bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics, making infections more difficult – and in some cases impossible – to treat. It’s one of today’s biggest public health challenges and this month Horizon examines how scientists are working to overcome this growing issue. We speak to microbiologist Dr Nassos Typas about how we got here, what causes resistance to antibiotics and the different approaches being explored to combat resistance. We look at renewed efforts to find new antibiotics and ask whether it’s possible to reverse antibiotic resistance. And with dairy being a huge food source and also an antibiotic-intensive industry, we speak to scientists who are developing alternative therapies for treating cows for mastitis as a way of curbing antibiotics from coursing through our food chain.
If you think that the key to beating antibiotic resistance is only for doctors to prescribe less and scientists to find new drug candidates, you are probably wrong. The fundamental solutions may lie far from medicine – in managing our rivers and soils.
New weapons are needed to fight drug-resistant bacteria, one of the biggest threats to global health. By working on new antibiotics or finding ways to revive existing ones in our medical arsenal, scientists aim to avoid a return to a world where even everyday infections may mean death.
As the global antibiotic resistance crisis grows, chemical-based aerosol sprays and electrical signals to wake up the immune system are being developed to treat cow infections. These non-antibiotic therapies for livestock could also help to limit the spread of antibiotic resistance through the human food chain.
Finding ways to enlist the bacteria living in our bodies to defend against infections while better understanding their role in promoting antibiotic resistance are key to fighting this growing problem, says Dr Nassos Typas, a microbiologist at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany.
On December 17th, the European Space Agency’s CHEOPS telescope will blast into space to take a closer look at some of the potentially habitable planets we’ve found beyond our solar system. Ahead of its launch, Horizon takes an in-depth look at what we already know about such exoplanets and what’s still to learn. We speak to Dr Michaël Gillon, who in 2017 was instrumental in discovering a system of seven Earth-like planets outside our solar system, about the diversity of the thousands of exoplanets we’ve found so far and next steps for research. We talk to scientists who are trying to understand the structure of Super-Earths – planets up to 10 times the size of Earth – by recreating elements of planetary cores in their labs, and others who are trying to understand how different planetary systems formed in the first place. Finally, we delve into one of the most important conditions for life to exist on exoplanets – their atmospheres – and find out how scientists are trying detect the biosignature gases that indicate the presence of life.
The next decade sees Europe facing some urgent challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss and feeding a growing population, to name but a few. At the same time, technology is developing apace, presenting both opportunities for novel solutions and worries about how to ensure it’s used for good. In September, as plans for the EU’s next research funding programme start to crystallise, we take a look at some of the pressing issues facing Europe and how the next research agenda should be designed to best serve people and planet. We will also be covering the EU’s Research and Innovation Days event at the end of the month, where policymakers, academics, business people and civil society organisations will gather to finalise priorities for Horizon Europe, the EU’s €100 billion research programme which runs from 2021 to 2027.
Europe changed dramatically during the Bronze Age, with huge population shifts generally ascribed to the rise of new metal technologies, trading and climate change. But scientists believe that there may have been another reason for this social upheaval – the plague, possibly transported by, or on the back of, newly domesticated horses.
Drugs that activate or block the body’s oxygen-sensing machinery to treat conditions such as anaemia in patients with chronic kidney disease and cancer are being made possible because we now understand the way that cells respond to oxygen deprivation, according to Sir Peter Ratcliffe, one of three winners of this year’s Nobel prize in physiology or medicine.
Newly domesticated horses may have increased the spread of disease.
Sir Peter Ratcliffe on why hypoxia matters.
Dr Michaël Gillon on what's next for exoplanet science.