Public invited to help tackle antibiotic resistance

A new citizen science project, BashTheBug, has been launched to study antibiotic resistance in tuberculosis (TB).

On the Zooniverse website, volunteers are shown a series of small, circular wells each containing Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes TB, and a different dose of an antibiotic.

Circular wells containing Mycobacterium tuberculosis and a different dose of an antibiotic

They are then asked to identify wells in which the bacteria have grown, helping the researchers to determine which antibiotics are effective at killing each specific strain of TB.

"Antibiotic resistance is a global threat, and accurately and rapidly diagnosing drug-resistant disease places a huge strain on hospital laboratories," says Dr Philip Fowler, lead researcher on the BashTheBug project.

"Knowing which antibiotics are effective against a particular bacterial infection is crucial for effectively treating a patient, while also limiting the opportunity for the bug to develop antibiotic-resistance and then be passed onto other people."

"Cultivating and examining TB plates is a time-consuming process, but by enlisting extra help online we hope to examine over 40 million images, something we could never do on our own."

TB is one of the leading causes of death by infectious disease. Globally, there were 10.4 million cases in 2015, and 1.1m deaths directly attributable to TB.

The CRyPTIC project

BashTheBug is part of the CRyPTIC project, which is collecting and analysing more than 100,000 TB infection samples from across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas between now and 2020.

The TB genomes isolated from each sample will be sequenced and their sensitivity to a range of antibiotics tested using a specially designed culture plate, photos of which are uploaded to BashTheBug.

CRyPTIC aims to build up a more complete picture of which mutations in the TB genetic code confer resistance. The aim is that ultimately this will improve the speed and accuracy with which TB is diagnosed and treated.

The project is led by researchers at the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, a partnership between the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Oxford.

It is funded by Wellcome, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the MRC Newton Fund.

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