November 28, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Themes of the last fortnight have been antibiotic resistance and road building in the Amazon ...

Themes of the last fortnight have been antibiotic resistance and road building in the Amazon. Find the top science web vids here too.

Antibiotic resistance

The problem of antibiotic resistance was foretold by the discoverer of penicillin, Alexander Fleming, while he was receiving his Nobel prize in 1945. His prediction is being realised as antibiotic resistance spreads across the world with potentially devastating medical consequences. A video explaining the most worrying aspects of antimicrobial resistance can be found on The Lip TV.

A recent article in Nature journal details antibiotic misuse and echoes the Royal Society’s call for strong global action to oversee the phasing out of misuse through an international body with similar structure to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This call doesn’t come early enough.

In early 2013, Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies said the problem should be added to the list of civil emergencies. Already, 5,000 people die every year in the UK from infections resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA (pictured), and farmers continue to ignore an EU ban on putting antibiotics into livestock feed as a growth promoter. Last week, Dr Courtney Reynolds explained in  a BioMed Central guest blog how antibiotic resistance is already costing $233 million a year in the US alone. The problem is here, the problem is real and it demands a widespread response.

Roads to ruin

As the England football World Cup team prepare to fly out to Brazil the country they’re visiting is changing. The government have spent $11 billion on stadiums and associated infrastructure for the tournament, but it’s the areas near new roads in the Amazon rainforest where costs to the environment are felt.

Brazil is a nearly double the land area of the European Union and so the logic goes that more roads are needed for transport, but a recent article explains how building roads through rainforests causes fragmentation, which disrupts the environment. The forest edge recedes about half a kilometre either side of a paved road. These patches of clear land dry in the heat of the sun then suck in moisture from the surrounding forest, leaving the trees more susceptible to fire. This effect is likely to have contributed to the “once-in-a-century” droughts of 2005 and 2010, so are more internal flights the solution?

The increase in roads also makes logging more likely as 95% of all Amazon deforestation happens within 7 kilometres of a road. Work is ongoing to combat illegal logging, however, and Jeff Tolefson recently reported on a satellite monitoring programme that tracks deforestation and provides information for rapid response. Although the current system is functional, improvements in the technology’s accuracy and a larger response team will be crucial in preserving the ‘lungs of the Earth’ over the coming years. Now the Brazilian coffers are emptied from stadium spends, perhaps extra funding to combat deforestation should come from their World Cup guests: the global community. Helping South American nations to house and preserve the largest rainforest on Earth continues to require both expertise and financial support.

Top web vids

Favourite video of the fortnight shows how a razor blade coated in a very thin layer of graphene can slice through ice like a hot knife through butter. The coated razor blade uses the superconducting property of graphene to rapidly transfer heat from your fingers to the blade of the razor. Another vid on centripetal force from Sick Science! shows glasses filled with water being placed on a wooden board and spun through the air, including a 360 degrees loop, without a drop of the water being spilt. The last recommended vid is called ‘What does a Chemical Engineer do?, a questions answered by student scientists. Jump to time code 3:45 for the killer line: “My mom will call me up and she’ll be like: ‘did you make this new thing, it’s awesome.’ And I’m like: ‘Yeah, I did.’” Chemical engineering; cool again.


IMAGE: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and a dead Human neutrophil, Wikicommons