Team:Edinburgh OG/HP/Silver

PhagED: a molecular toolkit to re-sensitise ESKAPE pathogens

Silver Medal Human Practices

Antimicrobial Resistance Conference

In March we attended an event hosted by Edinburgh Infectious Diseases, to learn more about how antibiotic resistance arises, the threat it poses, and potential solutions. This really helped demonstrate to us that antibiotic resistance is an important issue to tackle and it cemented our decision to try and tackle this issue with our iGEM project.

The topics covered during the conference included the current state of global antimicrobial resistance, the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, and possible alternatives to antibiotics (such as the use of phages). By talking to many researchers in the field we realised there was real scope to use bacteriophages to get closer to solving this issue, which informed our final choice to create a project with this aim.

Figure 1: Event programme front cover.

Leiden University

In May, we were visited by members of the Biology Society from Leiden University in the Netherlands. As we were still in the early stages of our project at this point, it was great to have their input and they provided some perspectives that we hadn’t yet considered.

We carried out a survey of the students and staff before and after we gave a presentation about our project, to see whether their opinions would change. 45 individuals took part in the survey. Detailed survey results can be found here: Pre-presentation & post-presentation

We found that - even prior to our presentation - the vast majority of our audience were familiar with antibiotic resistance and its importance (98%), and with bacteriophages (96%). This is not particularly surprising given that the audience all have an interest in biological sciences. 34 of the 45 respondents had heard of MRSA, making it the most well known of the pathogens we asked about. 6 of the participants hadn’t heard of any of the pathogens.

Before the presentation, 29% of the audience thought bacteriophages were harmful to humans and 7% were unsure. These numbers fell slightly after the presentation, to 27% and 4% respectively. 89% of the audience hadn’t heard of phage therapy and the use of bacteriophages for medical treatment before our presentation. Greater education about bacteriophages and their potential as an antibiotic alternative would allow members of the public to make informed decisions about phages and their uses.

Both before and after the presentation, no one was completely against hospitals using surface cleaning products containing engineered bacteriophages, for the purpose of removing antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Prior to our presentation, 56% of the audience supported this and 44% were unsure. After the presentation, this changed to 84% supporting this and 14% unsure.

Before the presentation, 7% of the audience was against the use of soaps and hand sanitisers containing engineered bacteriophages, for the purpose of removing antibiotic resistance in bacteria. This increased to 9% after our presentation. However, the percentage of the audience who supported this increased from 46% to 75%, while those unsure decreased from 47% to 16%. These results suggested to us that people may be uncomfortable with putting phages on their skin, so phage-based surface cleaning products could be more viable than soaps, and we would need to investigate other means of delivering PhagED.

Overall, 42% of the audience said the presentation had not changed their attitude towards the use of bacteriophage-containing surface cleaning products in hospitals, 2% felt less positive, and 56% felt more positive. We were encouraged by the mostly positive attitudes the group had towards PhagED.

iGEM Northern Meet-up

In June we hosted a meet-up for teams from the northern UK, attended by teams from Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Nottingham - as well as us and our undergraduate team of course! In the morning we showed the teams some classic Edinburgh sights like Calton Hill and Edinburgh Castle, before retreating to the university campus for pizza and snacks. After our nutritious lunch, each team gave a presentation about their project, and we really enjoyed hearing everyone’s ideas. The other teams asked us some great questions and we had some really useful discussions about the routes that PhagED could take.

Presentation with Edinburgh UG

This year’s Edinburgh OG and UG teams worked together to deliver a presentation for the University of Edinburgh’s Synthetic Biology Society on October 11th.

One of the focuses of our presentation was to raise awareness of and promote the iGEM competition through an introduction to iGEM history and principles, and an explanation of our projects.To achieve this, we explained how iGEM has helped us to develop practical and problem-solving skills, to come up with solutions to world problems and finally helped us to integrate our project and ideas into the real world. The audience, 30 people from both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, seemed to be very motivated to join the 2018 team, asking many questions about how they can apply.

Another goal of our presentation was to raise awareness of the emerging threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria, by explaining our project and why it is necessary. We aimed to help the students develop a better understanding of the problem and an interest in coming up with new ways to tackle it.

"Before hearing about PhagED, I had no idea there were possible ways of getting around antibiotic resistance other than limiting antibiotic use or discovering new antibiotics." - Magnus, 2nd year biological sciences student

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