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Scientists use bacteria to map out NZ

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 20/11/2016

A team of scientists growing bacteria in the shape of New Zealand have caught the attention of their colleagues across the globe.

Producing what looks like a satellite picture at first glance, the Victoria University of Wellington researchers grew green bacteria in the shape of New Zealand's land mass and blue bacteria to resemble the surrounding ocean.

The fascinating image appeared on international science journal Cell Chemical Biology's front cover and drew attention to the need to engineer better antibiotics.

"We're faced with going back to the 1920s pre-antibiotic era where the most innocuous of wounds could potentially kill you if they became infected," Victoria University researcher Dr Jeremy Owen said.

"This is something that everybody is going to be vulnerable to."

Dr Owen's image comes as the World Health Organization last week held its World Antibiotic Awareness Week to highlight bacteria's increasing ability to resist antibiotic treatments.

To support the campaign, Te Punaha Matatini, University of Auckland is running its own awareness drive from Monday to November 25, called InfectedNZ.

Acting deputy director Dr Siouxsie Wiles said InfectedNZ was an important campaign because experts predicted we will run out of antimicrobial medicines to treat many common infections within the next decade.

She said microbes evolve fast and can consequently evolve to resist the medicines targeting them, particularly when these are overused or misused.

She said another problem was the use of antimicrobials in pesticides and other agricultural products.

"For example, a fungus commonly found in soil has become resistant to the antifungal pesticides used in gardening and agriculture," she said.

"Because similar antifungals are used in human medicine, these resistant fungi are now able to cause almost untreatable infections in some vulnerable hospital patients."

"And these patients can become infected just by being in a bed next to an open window that looks out onto a garden!"

Wellington researcher Dr Owen said his School of Biological Sciences team were investigating how to build better antibiotics by not only engineering their "enzymatic assembly lines" in more effective ways, but allowing evolution to assist by producing favourable mutations.

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