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ANT-ibiotics: The research using insects to help battle superbugs

In 30 years time, it is predicted that more people could die through antibiotics becoming less resistant to infection than through cancer or diabetes.

Only last year the England's chief medical officer, Sally Davies warned that “The world is facing an antibiotic apocalypse.”

It could see a return to the time when a simple cut could lead to infection and possible death.

The Government is running a campaign to reduce the amount of antibiotics we use, scientists at the University of East Anglia and the John Innes Centre in Norwich are working on projects that will develop new ones.

Professor Matt Hutchings is researching a colony of Leafcutter ants using fungi and bacteria to produce antibiotics.

"The exciting thing about this is bacteria doesn't appear to be resistant to them under lab conditions. We need to discover a second generation of antibiotics. The smaller worker ants are constantly patrolling this honeycomb like fungus garden and if they smell any disease in there they cut out that piece. Their bodies are covered in bacteria that make antibiotics which kill the disease , so they've been growing their own food for about 60 million years and they've probably been using antibiotics for the same amount of time."

– Prof Matt Hutchings

The UEA is looking at soil to help discover new drugs. It's part of a long term project to discover whether medicines derived from soil samples can help fight disease.

New drugs are needed to battle bugs like MRSA Credit: PA

Antibiotic discovery is a long process. It can take up to 20 years before you find something in the laboratory that you can then use in clinical practice, so I reckon it's probably going to be another five to ten years before we know first of all that we've found something exciting, that's novel that no-one's found before; that it's actually going to be useful as a drug for humans and that it's actually going to be safe and that we can make it in factories so that it's a useful drug in the end.

– Prof Laura Bowater, UEA~

The UEA's research project will later this week be part of an exhibition opening in London tomorrow It's called Superbugs: The Fight for Our Lives.

The problem stems from the antibiotics that we use today. Many of them were discovered in the 1940s and 50s, but because of misuse many of them are losing their efficacy.

Public Health England says a fifth of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary,

An estimated 5,000 people die in England each year as a result of drug-resistant infections.

If we don't tackle this, drug-resistant infections could kill more people than cancer by 2050