Tag Archives: viruses

Russian researchers want to study ancient viruses from the Siberian permafrost

Russian state laboratory Vector has announced a new research project in which it will probe ancient animals frozen in the Siberian permafrost, looking for ancient. The aim of the project is to identify such viruses and conduct advanced research into virus evolution.

“We hope that interesting discoveries in the world of viruses await us, one researcher was quoted.”

The remains of many Paleolithic creatures are trapped in the icy grip of the Siberian permafrost. Aided by global warming that melted some of the ice, expeditions have uncovered the remains of numerous kinds of animals preserved by the freezing temperatures. The remains are interesting by themselves, but Russian researchers now want to probe even further, and look at what type of viruses these organisms may have hosted.

The study will be focused on remains discovered in 2009 in Yakutia, a vast region of north-eastern Siberia where remains of Paleolithic animals including mammoths, elk, dogs, partridges, rodents, hares, and many others have been discovered. The researchers will be probing these groups looking for ancient viruses, called paleoviruses.

“We are conducting studies on paleoviruses for the first time,” said Maxim Cheprasov, head of the Mammoth Museum laboratory at Yakutsk University, who added that they have already carried out several bacterial studies on the samples.

The research is a collaboration between Vector and the University of Yakutsk. The work began with analysis of tissues extracted from a prehistoric horse thought to be at least 4,500 years old. Researchers drill a tiny hole and take tissue samples, placing them in a test tube. They then carry out a series of analyses on this sample, from genome sequencing to isolation of total nucleic acids, to obtain data on the entire biodiversity of the microorganisms in the sample.

“If nucleic acids aren’t destroyed, we will be able to obtain data on their composition and establish how it changed, what was the evolutionary development of microorganisms. Vector researcher Olesya Okhlopkova explains in a press release. She adds that they will also “determine the epidemiological potential of currently existing infectious agents.”

Sergei Fedorov, one of the participating researchers, adds that the findings are kept in a special freezer at temperatures of -16 to -18 degrees Celsius (around 0-3 degrees Fahrenheit). Mammoths will be a point of particular interest for the project, but researchers will look at samples from various ancient animals. “We hope that interesting discoveries in the world of viruses await us,” says Fedorov

Vector is a secluded research institute that, in Soviet times, was weaponized and used in the Soviet biological warfare program. The laboratory made important progress in smallpox research, but also researched the production of various viruses and toxins. In post-Soviet times, the center focuses on vaccine research (for Hepatitis A or influenza, for instance), diagnosis systems, and other epidemiological research.

Vector also developed a COVID-19 vaccine (EpiVacCorona, not the Sputnik V) which was licensed in October in Russia and is scheduled to begin mass production in February.

New sugar-based molecule rips drug-resistant viruses to death

Oh, sweet victory — a team of researchers from the University of Manchester, the University of Geneva (UNIGE), and the Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne (EPFL) have developed a new virus-killing substance derived from sugar.

Artist’s impression of a virus being attacked by the new molecules.
Image credits EPFL.

Viruses aren’t easy to kill, especially in a way that doesn’t affect our own cells. Most of the drugs and chemicals that can destroy viruses also come with a host of side-effects on human health, as they impact our bodies to a lesser or greater extent. So one of the most usual approaches in dealing with viruses is to not actually kill them but to disrupt their ability to infect cells or multiply.

However, a new paper describes the development of a new sugar-based molecule that will actually destroy such pathogens, but leave our own cells unaffected.

A sticky demise

“We have successfully engineered a new molecule, which is a modified sugar that shows broad-spectrum antiviral properties,” says Samuel Jones and Valeria Cagno, lead researchers on the study.

“As this is a new type of antiviral and one of the first to ever show broad-spectrum efficacy, it has potential to be a game changer in treating viral infections.”

Viricides are substances or compounds that outright kill viruses instead of the traditional approach. The time window between when a traditional antiviral first makes contact with a virus and its death gives the pathogen an opportunity to develop defenses, and this new compound is aimed at combating that exact mechanism. Most importantly, however, is that the sugar-based molecule is effective against multiple types of viruses and completely benign for human cells.

The team started from cyclodextrins, naturally-occurring molecules that are related to glucose. They then engineered these molecules to attract viruses, stick to their membranes, and tear them apart — which effectively destroys the pathogen.

Microscope image of a virus before and after treatment with the molecule.
Image credits EPFL.

The team tested their compound on several types of viruses including herpes, HIV, hepatitis C, Zika and respiratory syncytial virus; it performed very well against all of them, they report. The tests involved both laboratory trials using tissue cultures, as well as live mice. Overall, the viricide was effective and didn’t harm either cultured or live cells and tissues, and the team found that the viruses weren’t able to develop resistance to the compound.

The sugar-based viricide has the most promise in use against viruses that have evolved resistance to other treatments, the team explains. It has already been patented and the team is currently setting up a new company to market it, with the end goal of developing ointments, nasal sprays, and other treatment options based on the molecule.

The paper “Modified cyclodextrins as broad-spectrum antivirals” has been published in the journal Science Advances.

Ancient viruses discovered in a 15,000-year-old glacier

Earth’s oldest glacial ice is located in the Tibetan Plateau of China. For over 15,000 years, it has been the host of a group of frozen viruses, most of them unknown until now.

Researchers have now discovered the viruses and warned that as climate change continues to melt more and more ice, more pathogens could also emerge.

The team analyzed two ice cores from the Tibetan glacier, unveiling the presence of 28 previously unknown virus groups. Investigating them will be key to learn which viruses have developed in different climates over time, researchers argued in their paper on server bioRxiv.

“The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores, presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition that is similar to findings in other cores,” the researchers wrote, claiming the experiment will help to establish a baseline for glacier viruses.

Sampling ice cores is no easy feat. You not only have to do it in the right conditions to ensure that the ice is unaffected, but you also have to ensure that no contamination is caused.

The team created a protocol for ultraclean microbial and viral sampling, applying it to two preserved ice core samples from 1992 and 2015. These cores were not handled in a way that prevents contamination during drilling, handling and transportation — which means that the exterior of the ice was most likely contaminated. In order to avoid this effect, researchers only analyzed the inside of the core, which was presumed to be unaffected.

The team worked in a cold room at minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) to access the inner part of the cores, using a saw to cut 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) of ice from the outside later.

Then, the team used ethanol to wash and melt another 0.2 inches of ice and then sterile water to wash another 0.2 inches. This allowed them to access the inner layer to do their study, having in total shaved off about 0.6 inches or 1.5 centimeters of ice of the sample.

A total of 33 groups of viruses were found in the ice cores, of which 28 were completely new to science. “The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores,” the researchers wrote, “presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition.”

The growing temperatures of the world because of climate change is melting glaciers across the planet, so these viral archives could soon be lost, the researchers said. But that’s not the only bad news, as the ice melt could challenge our ability to stay safe from them.

“At a minimum, [ice melt] could lead to the loss of microbial and viral archives that could be diagnostic and informative of past Earth climate regimes,” they wrote. “However, in a worst-case scenario, this ice melt could release pathogens into the environment.”

Meet the trillions of viruses that make up your virome

If you think you don’t have viruses, think again.

It may be hard to fathom, but the human body is occupied by large collections of microorganisms, commonly referred to as our microbiome, that has evolved with us since the early days of man. Scientists have only recently begun to quantify the microbiome, and discovered it is inhabited by at least 38 trillion bacteria. More intriguing, perhaps, is that bacteria are not the most abundant microbes that live in and on our bodies. That award goes to viruses.

Transmission electron micrograph of multiple bacteriophages attached to a bacterial cell wall.
Dr. Graham Beards, CC BY-SA

It has been estimated that there are over 380 trillion viruses inhabiting us, a community was collectively known as the human virome. But these viruses are not the dangerous ones you commonly hear about, like those that cause the flu or the common cold, or more sinister infections like Ebola or dengue. Many of these viruses infect the bacteria that live inside you and are known as bacteriophages or phages for short. The human body is a breeding ground for phages, and despite their abundance, we have very little insight into what all they or any of the other viruses in the body are doing.

I am a physician-scientist studying the human microbiome by focusing on viruses, because I believe that harnessing the power of bacteria’s ultimate natural predators will teach us how to prevent and combat bacterial infections. One might rightly assume that if viruses are the most abundant microbes in the body, they would be the target of the majority of human microbiome studies. But that assumption would be horribly wrong. The study of the human virome lags so far behind the study of bacteria that we are only just now uncovering some of their most basic features. This lag is due to it having taken scientists much longer to recognize the presence of a human virome, and a lack of standardized and sophisticated tools to decipher what’s actually in your virome.

The 411 on the virome

Here are a few of the things we have learned thus far. Bacteria in the human body are not in love with their many phages that live in and around them. In fact, they developed CRISPR-Cas systems – which humans have now co-opted for editing genes – to rid themselves of phages or to prevent phage infections altogether. Why? Because phages kill bacteria. They take over the bacteria’s machinery and force them to make more phages rather than make more bacteria. When they are done, they burst out of the bacterium, destroying it. Finally, phages sit on our body surfaces just waiting to cross paths with vulnerable bacteria. They are basically bacteria stalkers.

A virus called a bacteriophage infects bacteria and inserts its genetic material into the cell. The bacterium ‘reads’ the genetic instructions and manufactures more viruses which destroy the bacterium when they exit the cell. Guido4, CC BY

It’s clear that there’s a war being fought on our body surfaces every minute of every day, and we haven’t a clue who’s winning or what the consequences of this war might be.

Viruses may inhabit all surfaces both inside and outside of the body. Everywhere researchers have looked in the human body, viruses have been found. Viruses in the blood? Check. Viruses on the skin? Check. Viruses in the lungs? Check. Viruses in the urine? Check. And so on. To put it simply, when it comes to where viruses live in the human body, figuring out where they don’t live is a far better question than asking where they do.

Viruses are contagious. But we often don’t think about bacterial viruses as being easily shared. Researchers have shown that just living with someone will lead to rapid sharing of the viruses in your body. If we don’t know what the consequences are of the constant battle between bacteria and viruses in our body, then it gets exponentially more complicated considering the battle between your bacteria and their viruses that are then shared with everyone including your spouse, your roommate, and even your dog.

Viruses keeping us healthy?

Ultimately, we need to know what all these viruses in the human body are doing, and figure out whether we can take advantage of our virome to promote our health. But it’s probably not clear at this point why anyone would believe that our virome may be helpful.

It may seem counterintuitive, but harming our bacteria can be harmful to our health. For example, when our healthy bacterial communities are disturbed by antibiotic use, other microbial bad guys, also called pathogens, take advantage of the opportunity to invade our body and make us sick. Thus, in a number of human conditions, our healthy bacteria play important roles in preventing pathogen intrusion. Here’s where viruses come in. They’ve already figured out how to kill bacteria. It’s all they live for.

So the race is on to find those viruses in our viromes that have already figured out how to protect us from the bad guys, while leaving the good bacteria intact. Indeed, there are recent anecdotal examples utilizing phages successfully to treat life-threatening infections from bacteria resistant to most if not all available antibiotics – a treatment known as phage therapy. Unfortunately, these treatments are and will continue to be hampered by inadequate information on how phages behave in the human body and the unforeseen consequences their introduction may have on the human host. Thus, phage therapy remains heavily regulated. At the current pace of research, it may be many years before phages are used routinely as anti-infective treatments. But make no mistake about it; the viruses that have evolved with us for so many years are not only part of our past, but will play a significant role in the future of human health.

David Pride, Associate Director of Microbiology, University of California San Diego and Chandrabali Ghose, Visiting Scientist, The Rockefeller University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
The Conversation

What Makes Bats The Perfect Hosts For So Many Viruses?

Bats have been known to host up to 137 different kinds of viruses. Photo via PD-USGov.


Bats are mammals that have forelimbs adapted as wings; as such, they are the only mammals that are naturally capable of sustained flight. Bats are often associated with horror stories, vampires and haunted houses. For the most part, these creatures are misunderstood. Other than being the only mammal that can fly, bats are the perfect hosts for a lot of disease-causing viruses. Bats have been known to carry rabies, Hendra and Marburg viruses, and research has also suggested that bats may be the original hosts of Ebola and Nipah.

The Marburg virus and some strains of the Ebola virus can kill up to 90% of humans infected. India’s Kerala state has just faced an outbreak of the Nipah virus and seventeen people have died so far. This may seem like a small number, but only one of the eighteen people infected survived. For a number of these viruses hosted by bats, there is no known cure or vaccine, which means that doctors can only offer supportive treatment while the patient’s immune system fights off the virus.

When it comes to carrying viruses that can be transferred to other species including humans (so-called “zoonotic” viruses), bats are in a league of their own. These flying mammals host over 60 zoonotic viruses. This is rivaled only by rodents that carry a wide range of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and helminths (worms).

Researchers compiled and analyzed databases of every virus identified in bats and rodents. They found that rodents host 179 viruses, 68 of which are zoonotic, while bats carry 61 zoonotic viruses, with 137 viruses in total. So, rodents win by a slight margin in carrying more human-infecting viruses, but bats host more zoonotic viruses per species — on average, each species of bat hosts 1.8 zoonotic viruses, while rodents host 1.48 viruses per species.

Humans have started creeping into areas where bats naturally live, especially in the tropics, which has led to an increased risk of contact with these animals. In Malaysia, for instance, commercial pig farms were installed in bat-inhabited forests which consequently led to the first human outbreak of Nipah, via pigs. As people continue to move into jungles on the planet, they will see more and more outbreaks of zoonotic viruses.

Bats also carry more human pathogens than other animals. Why? Because bats prefer to live close to one another (like humans spreading respiratory viruses like the flu during winter), giving plenty of opportunities for pathogens to spread between the bats.

But why aren’t these lethal viruses deadly for the bats? Scientists theorize that it has something to do with their ability to fly. It takes a lot of energy to fly and when a lot of energy is being utilized, a lot of waste is produced. To prevent this from damaging the DNA of bats, they have over time evolved a sophisticated defense mechanism that also helps prevent them from succumbing to disease. But what is this mechanism that prevents bats from getting sick from the unusually high microbial loads in their bodies? The question has finally been answered by Peng Zhou and colleagues in a paper published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe. Zhou and scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China found that in bats, an antiviral immune pathway called the STING-interferon pathway is dampened, and bats can maintain just enough defenses against illness without triggering the immune systems from going into overdrive. In humans and other mammals, an immune-based over-response to one of these and other pathogenic viruses can trigger severe illness. For example, in humans, an activated STING pathway is linked with severe autoimmune diseases.

Researchers at the University College Dublin have also shown that bat macrophages can rapidly mount a robust antiviral response whenever a pathogen is detected, but compared to the immune response of a mouse, the bat immune system can quickly reverse their response by releasing anti-inflammatory cytokines.

Other researchers have suggested that bats’ super-tolerance might have something to do with their ability to generate large repertoires of naïve antibodies, or the fact that when bats fly, their internal temperatures are increased to around 40oC (104oF), which is not ideal for many viruses. Only the viruses that have evolved tolerance mechanisms survive in bats. These hardy viruses can therefore tolerate human fever. What is a good thing for bats is a bad thing for humans.

So, what can we do to prevent future outbreaks of bat viruses? We certainly cannot create vaccines and drugs for all these emerging pathogens. However, there is a need to study the interactions between bats, humans and domestic animals and identify factors that are making bats come into contact with humans and domestic animals, and try to do something about it.

Virus model.

Space might be teeming with viruses that we’re not looking for, but we should

We need to start looking into the possibility that there are viruses living beyond the confines of our planet, argues Portland State University biology professor Ken Stedman.

Virus model.

Model of a virus.
Image credits Tom Thai / Flickr.

Humanity has been thinking of life outside of the confines of Earth since times immemorial. It started with gods, angels, spirits, demons. Superstition gave way to cold knowledge and hard technology, morphing their image into aliens that were different, but not completely unlike us — à la those portrayed in H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. As our scope widened and our reach extended with modern tech, we’re no longer content to just wait for aliens to drop on our doorstep. We’re actively looking, listening, prodding for life outside of the Earth, much farther away and on more channels than anytime before, in a tacit acknowledgment that those we may find could very well be just as planet-locked as we are.

Sill, we don’t have anything to show (as far as alien life goes) for all our efforts. Maybe, then, we should down-grade again and start looking for aliens that have yet to reach our rung on the technological and evolutionary ladder. Maybe its time we started looking for bits of life as seemingly insignificant as viruses living in space and on other planets. At least, that’s what Portland State University biology professor Ken Stedman and his co-authors argue for in a new paper — and they’re willing to kick-start that search.

It’s the little things that count

Stedman and his team say it’s past time that astronomers broaden their search for alien life by combing space for viruses.

“More than a century has passed since the discovery of the first viruses,” said Stedman, “entering the second century of virology, we can finally start focusing beyond our own planet.”

Seeing as there are around 10 to 100 times more viruses on Earth than any other cellular organism, Stedman believes that the same could hold true for other planets or moons out there. Furthermore, he bases his call to action on research which suggests that viruses have played a major role in the creation and evolution of life on Earth — and it’s likely they would play the same role in other places as well.

‘Simple life survives in space,’ granted, is a phrase that sounds far-fetched when you first hear it. Isn’t it, like, super cold out there and all? It is, but life (especially ‘simple’ life) is surprisingly good at finding a way.

Tardigrades, for example, have shown an incredible resilience to the vicissitudes of outer space, shrugging void, cold, and radiation with apparent ease for decades. Bacteria coalescing together in biofilms are surprisingly hardy, being able to brave harsh, Mars-like conditions. In fact, enduring a journey through space (such as on a spaceships’ hull) actually improves their chances of survival by drying this biofilm and making it more resilient. And radiation, even at levels that we’ve assumed deadly to virtually everything and anything alive, doesn’t seem to bother the bacteria too much either.

Water bear.

Tardigrades, also known as water bears, have been shown to survive in space — they even laid eggs on their trip.
Image credits Eye of Science / Nature.

So could life survive a trip through space without a spaceship to insulate its squishy going-ons? Overwhelmingly likely, yes. In fact, it’s so likely that NASA has cause for concern that our microbes (and these are the soft-core microbes used to living in comfort on Earth) could contaminate other planets. We’ve seen all sorts of bugs hitching a ride (without official approval, the nerve on them) and gouging a permanent home aboard the ISS right under our noses.

“We have had contamination in parts of the station where fungi was seen growing or biomaterial has been pulled out of a clogged waterline, but we have no idea what it is until the sample gets back down to the lab,” said Sarah Wallace, NASA microbiologist and principal investigator for Genes in Space 3 at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Along with the tardigrades and biofilm-protected colonies of bacteria, it’s a good indication of just how pervasively present life tends to be after it first spawns. The crux of the issue, then, isn’t if life could make it through space — it’s whether or not it appeared there in the first place.

We only have indirect evidence. But this suggests that the chemical background necessary for life as we know it is there — we’ve found water in space, we’ve found organic compounds, we’ve found basic biological building blocks such as amino acids, and we’ve found them all together in the same place.

While the ingredients seem to be there, all ready to boil in a primordial life-generating soup, however, what we haven’t found is actual life. Taking the focal point from away the grandest aspects of life like radio signals or Dyson spheres might help us spot anything really small we’ve missed up to now.

Stedman and his team say they hope to “to inspire integration of virus research into astrobiology” by shining the limelight on pressing, unanswered questions in astrovirology — “particularly regarding the detection of virus biosignatures and whether viruses could be spread extraterrestrially”.

The paper “Astrovirology: Viruses at Large in the Universe” has been published in the journal Astrobiology.

DNA strands.

Blood DNA sequencing reveals there’s a lot more microbes living inside you — and we’ve never seen over 99% of them before

A new paper looking at the DNA fragments floating around in human blood reports that there are way more microbes living inside us than we thought — and we’ve never seen most of them before.

DNA strands.

Image credits Colin Behrens.

The idea behind this paper started taking shape as a team led by Stephen Quake, a professor of bioengineering and applied physics, a member of Stanford Bio-X and the paper’s senior author, were looking for a new non-invasive method to determine the risk of rejection in transplant patients. This is traditionally done using a biopsy, which involves a very large needle and quite a bit of ‘ow’.

Needless to say, nobody was very big on the procedure. So Quake’s lab wanted to see if they can work around the issue by looking at the bits of DNA floating around in patients’ blood — what’s known as cell-free DNA. The team expected to find the patient’s DNA, the donor’s DNA, and genetic material from all the bacteria, viruses, and all the other critters that make up our personal microbiome. A spike of donor DNA would, in theory, be one of the first signs of organ rejection.

But what the team didn’t expect to find was the sheer quantity and diversity of microbiome-derived DNA in the blood samples they used.

Bugs galore

“We found the gamut,” says professor Quake. “We found things that are related to things people have seen before, we found things that are divergent, and we found things that are completely novel.”


Throughout their project (which spanned several studies), the team gathered samples from 156 heart, lung, and bone marrow transplant recipients, and 32 from pregnant woman — pregnancy also has a huge effect on the immune system, similar to immunosuppressants, although we don’t really know how.

Of all the non-human DNA bits found in these samples, a whopping 99% couldn’t be matched to anything in existing genetic databases. In other words, they came from strains we didn’t even know existed. So the team went to work on characterizing all that genetic material. According to them, the “vast majority” falls into the phylum proteobacteria. The largest single group of viruses identified in this study belong to the torque teno family (TTVs). In fact, Quake says their work has “doubled the number of known viruses in that family” in one fell swoop.

Known torque teno viruses infect either animals or humans, but many of the TTVs the team identified don’t fit in either group.


“We’ve now found a whole new class of human-infecting ones that are closer to the animal class than to the previously known human ones, so quite divergent on the evolutionary scale,” Quake adds.

The team believes that we’ve missed all these microbes up to now because narrow studies, by their very nature, miss the bigger picture. Researchers often focus their attention on a few interesting microbes and glance over everything else. Blood samples, by contrast, allowed them to look at everything swimming around inside of us, instead of looking at a few individual pieces. It was this net-cast-wide approach — which the team humorously refer to as a “massive shotgun sequencing” of cell-free DNA — that allowed the team to discover how hugely diverse human microbiomes are.

In the future, the team plans to take a similar look at other animals to see what species their microbiomes harbor.

“There’s all kinds of viruses that jump from other species into humans, a sort of spillover effect, and one of the dreams here is to discover new viruses that might ultimately become human pandemics,” Quake says.

“What this does is it arms infectious disease doctors with a whole set of new bugs to track and see if they’re associated with diseases. That’s going to be a whole other chapter of work for people to do.”

The paper “Numerous uncharacterized and highly divergent microbes which colonize humans are revealed by circulating cell-free DNA” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Germ antibiotic resistance ‘as big a risk as terrorism’

With the continuous advancements in medicine, it’s easy to forget that not only are we adapting to new species of germs, but they are adapting to our medicine as well – sometimes even much faster than us. The danger posed by growing resistance to antibiotics should be ranked along with terrorism, the government’s chief medical officer for England has said.


It is a “ticking time bomb”, Professor Dame Sally Davies explains. If we lose the ability to fight infection, something as simple as a common surgery could pose a deadly peril in as little as 20 years.

“If we don’t take action, then we may all be back in an almost 19th Century environment where infections kill us as a result of routine operations. We won’t be able to do a lot of our cancer treatments or organ transplants.”

She plants a big part of the blame on big pharmaceutical companies, which haven’t really developed any new antibiotics in the past 2 decades, simply because it isn’t profitable – other types of drugs bring way bigger profits.

“We haven’t had a new class of antibiotics since the late 80s and there are very few antibiotics in the pipeline of the big pharmaceutical companies that develop and make drugs,” she said.

But me, you, and the society are just as much to blame.

“We haven’t as a society globally incentivised making antibiotics. It’s quite simple – if they make something to treat high blood pressure or diabetes and it works, we will use it on our patients everyday. “Whereas antibiotics will only be used for a week or two when they’re needed, and then they have a limited life span because of resistance developing anyway.”


People often take antibiotics without actually needing them. What happens is, you’re sick, you take antibiotics, you wipe all of them, or, the more dangerous possibility, most of them; next time you’ll be taking the same drug, the germs will be better prepared to face it and will improve. In 2008 her predecessor, Liam Donaldson, urged doctors not to use antibiotics to treat colds and cough – something which hasn’t really had any big effect.

The problem is, bacteria is continually adapting to medicine, and frankly, lately, we haven’t been adapting to bacteria so well. Death rates for infectious diseases have declined in developed countries in recent decades due to improvements in hygiene and sanitation, widespread immunisation and effective drug treatments, but the rate at which they are declining is dropping, and researchers fear a turn.

Yes, there is a possibility we will start losing the war with microbes – a possibility that has never before been so disturbing. Politicians are ignoring the issue, big pharma are ignoring the issue, society is ignoring the issue – and if things continue in this way, the perspective is quite dire.

A five-year UK Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy will be published shortly which will advocate the responsible use of antibiotics and strengthened surveillance, but no country has adapted a similar measure. Hopefully, the UK will only spearhead this fight, because it has to be a global effort from all parties involved (including us) to actually be effective.