Ro­bots could save us from new ‘Dark Ages’


Manchester Evening News - - THIS REVBEL LIFE - By DIANNE APEN-SADLER news­ @MENnews­desk

SCI­EN­TISTS in Manch­ester be­lieve ro­bots could tackle a loom­ing an­tibi­otics cri­sis which could take hu­man­ity back to the ‘Dark Ages.’

An­tibi­otics have helped rid the world of lethal dis­eases, but their wide­spread use means some bac­te­ria are now de­vel­op­ing a re­sis­tance, turn­ing into un­treat­able ‘su­per­bugs.’

But ex­perts at Manch­ester Univer­sity say au­to­mated tech­nol­ogy could help cre­ate drugs much faster than bac­te­ria can adapt to them.

Only a hand­ful of new an­tibi­otics are cur­rently in de­vel­op­ment be­cause cre­at­ing medicines is ex­pen­sive, time-con­sum­ing and of­ten meets with fail­ure.

But a lead­ing drugs ex­pert says ro­botic test­ing could slash the time and money nor­mally needed for this type of re­search – which in­volves large vol­umes of repet­i­tive tasks.

The vast ma­jor­ity (up to 90 per cent) of all an­tibi­otics cur­rently in use are de­rived from a type of soild­welling bac­te­ria called ‘acti­no­mycetes.’

Un­til re­cently it was feared that the num­ber of pos­si­ble drugs that could be ex­tracted from this strain had been ex­hausted.

Now sci­en­tists in the Manch­ester Syn­thetic Bi­ol­ogy Re­search Cen­tre, (SYNBIOCHEM) be­lieve they have a way to help solve the prob­lem by us­ing ro­bots to make and test thou­sands of dif­fer­ent an­tibi­otics.

Pro­fes­sor Eriko Takano, the lead prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor on the project, said: “It’s ba­si­cally a num­bers game, and if we use ro­bots we can screen for lots of num­bers, more than one per­son can do.

“Re­sis­tance ap­pears very quickly in these pathogens. We need to be ahead of this race. The bugs are over­tak­ing us at the mo­ment.”

Prof Takano, a pro­fes­sor of syn­thetic bi­ol­ogy, added: “If it is as bad as they pre­dict, we may not be able to go in for a rou­tine op­er­a­tion as safely as thought, as there will be these an­tibi­otic re­sis­tant bugs. You can’t even get a pa­per cut with­out a pos­si­ble risk. That’s like go­ing back to the Mid­dle Ages or a time be­fore peni­cillin was dis­cov­ered.”

Manch­ester Univer­sity is unique in the UK for us­ing ro­bot­ics in the fight against an­tibi­otic re­sis­tance.

Pro­fes­sor Eriko Takano

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