How Dalek Microbes Could Actually Save Mankind

A Dalek that occupies the foyer in the BBC’s London broadcasting house could save humanity. No, really.

Due to our bodies’ familiarity to antibiotics, bacteria are becoming more resistant to this treatment; if only one bacteria survives an antibiotic attack, this can then multiply to create an infection more likely to be resistant to that drug. This is a major concern for us, and a recent report estimates that projects that superbugs adapted to survive against antibiotics could kill upwards of 10 million people a year by 2050. You might think this unlikely, but antimicrobial resistance already results in 50,000 deaths a year in Europe and the USA.

Scientists are looking for new ways to treat infections, trying to discover new antibiotics.

And the answer might lie with a Dalek.

Dr. Adam Roberts of University College London leads the “Swab and Send” project, trying to get the public to collect bacteria from their homes to send to a lab for analysis, in an effort to discover new microbes that could yield new antibiotics to combat a new wave of infections. The project included a sweep of the BBC premises – including Dr. Adam Rutherford, presenter of Radio 4’s Inside Science programme, getting up close and personal with a Bronze Dalek that stands in the reception area of the building.

He collected microbes from the eyestalk, and these, Rutherford explains, were certainly promising:

“The Dalek provided not one, but four potential novel antibiotics.”

They were all sent off for testing, and Roberts found:

“We’ve got at least three different types of bacteria from the Dalek that were able to ‘exterminate’ our Micrococcus indicator strain.”

This is pretty incredible. How did the bacteria get there? We’ll never know, but chance (combined with the high probability of visitors touching the Dalek’s eyestak and so spreading further microbes) probably plays a part.

Are we to trust medical help from a Dalek? Well, you might think not, but do remember that the Daleks needs slaves to mine out the planet come the mid-2100s…