Science | June 23, 2017 11:12 am

Fight Against Drug-Resistant Superbugs Goes Old School, Gets Dirty

Scientists are crowdsourcing bacteria from compost bins and toilet seats to find the next life-saving antibiotic.

Crowdsourcing the fight against superbugs
Scientists are looking for the next life-saving drug in the dirtiest places. (Getty Images)

The cure for a deadly superbug could be found in a pig trough, on a toilet seat, or from a compost bin.

Scientists are calling for people to send them samples of the dirtiest things they can find as part of an effort to produce an antibiotic capable of killing drug-resistant bacteria.

In doing so, they’re returning to the old way of making antibiotics when drug companies would scour the Earth for naturally-occurring microorganisms.

Each year, 700,000 people die from infections that can’t be treated by antibiotics. That’s expected to grow to 10 million by 2050. The scale of the problem is fueled by people taking antibiotics without moderation and feeding large amounts of them to farm animals. It’s a major public health concern that likely won’t be solved by drug companies because they know fast bacteria become resistant to these expensive and time-intensive products, according to The Atlantic.

Instead, researchers like Adam Roberts at University College London are testing all sorts of environmental samples to find bacteria that has adapted on its own and potentially form a new category of drugs to kill superbugs. Through a crowdsourcing campaign and social media, Roberts has asked people to send him samples of the most unsanitary things they’re willing to collect.