Summary: A dragonfly, copper, blue light, organised lightning, spider silk and ozone. I discuss how physics and material science can also help us in the ongoing fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR). I shall also explain why pharmacological solutions need to be used with the appropriate care by reminiscing about the time that my spotty face led to a spotty gut and people thought I was taking Viagra (true story).
Why this is important: Physics and material science is an area that gets far less focus in the mainstream than pharmacological and behavioural solutions.
The big theme: Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a macro threat to the sustainability of the human race and other species. It is of a similar level to that of the worst impacts of climate change or biodiversity loss and is inextricably linked. Bringing together biological, behavioural, and physical solutions with appropriately incentivising funding we should be able to continue to enjoy the benefits of our microbe partners whilst avoiding their darker side. This is potentially a massive, if complex, theme for those who care about sustainability; the potential goes well beyond the pharmaceutical industry.
Antibiotics and other antisepsis measures revolutionised surgery and healthcare. Highly invasive operations, such as gut surgery and joint replacements all depend on antibiotics to prevent infection and be successful. Certain treatments which render the immune system less effective, such as chemotherapy, are made viable by the support provided by antibiotics. Where previously catching certain infections was pretty much a death sentence, antibiotics and other antimicrobials provided hope.
However, some microbes have adapted, either over the long term through genetic mutation or using existing defence mechanisms, and are now able to resist attempts to stop them being infectious and causing disease. That adaptation is helped when antimicrobials, especially antibiotics, are over- or inappropriately used. Not only does that mean antimicrobials could become less effective at treating/preventing infections, but they may also stop working altogether.