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Michael Mosley vs The Superbugs

Michael Mosley looks at what can be done to combat resistance to antibiotics by creating a clone of himself in agar and growing on it bacteria taken from all over his body.

For 70 years a war has been waged against harmful bacteria using antibiotics. But bacteria are fighting back and today more and more bacterial infections are becoming resistant to antibiotics. Drug-resistant superbugs are spreading; not just MRSA - also TB, pneumonia and e-coli. In Britain, hundreds are already dying of these infections - mainly the very young or the frail and elderly. But experts warn that unless the problem is cracked, by 2050 a pathogenic apocalypse will be faced, with over 10 million people dying of resistant bacterial infection worldwide every year.

Michael Mosley goes in search of the causes of this crisis and new solutions to overcome it. Has the resistant superbug crisis been caused by overusing antibiotics?

At the heart of the film is an unprecedented experiment using Microbial Michael, a life-sized living bacterial clone of Michael Mosley. Using microbes taken from all over his body and grown on his clone, the experiment sets out to discover what happens when a powerful broad spectrum antibiotic is taken. What are the effects of the antibiotic on bacteria - both beneficial bacteria and potentially harmful bugs?

Michael discovers to his surprise that growing on his clone are bugs that have acquired resistance to antibiotics - and that some of them could even turn nasty if his immune system were ever to become compromised. It's worrying news.

But how do bacteria acquire resistance to antibiotics? In New Mexico, Michael discovers that deep down in a hard-to-access cave system are bacteria able to resist nearly every antibiotic used in modern medicine. Yet they have never - in millennia - had any interaction with humans or our medicines. How can this have happened?

Antibiotics are not man-made. They're chemical weapons made by one species of bacteria to target and destroy other kinds of rival bacteria. In order to survive, the target bacteria have had to evolve resistance; it's a natural process that's been going on for millions of years, long before the discovery of penicillin.

What does this mean for the dependence on antibiotics? Although the development of resistance is a natural process, the overuse of antibiotics in medicine and farming massively accelerates the process. So existing antibiotics need to be used more carefully, and new antibiotics need to be found.

The team takes travels to the US, to Poland and to research labs around the UK to meet the 'resistance hunters' - scientists who are trying to find new ways of beating resistant superbugs. And in a finale to the Microbial Michael experiment, some of his bacterial clone's body parts - his face and his hands - are infected with superbugs. Can any of the new treatments get rid of them?

1 hour

Last on

Fri 24 May 2019 01:30


Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:25

    Nine Inch Nails

    Right Where It Belongs


Role Contributor
Presenter Michael Mosley
Executive Producer Alan Hayling
Director Peter Gauvain
Producer Peter Gauvain
Production Company Renegade Pictures Limited


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