By Dr Carla Brown, Game Dr, Edinburgh, UK
Dr. Carla Brown & Siam Colvine at the Antibiotic Apocalypse Film Premiere
It’s a typical Friday evening and I’m having dinner with two of my closest friends.
Me: “Have you guys seen the news this week? They have found bacteria that are resistant to our LAST RESORT antibiotic.”
Friends: “Oh really? Wow.” They go back to eating and the conversation moves on.
Now as the only microbiologist in my social circle, I am fairly used to this level of apathy towards the issue of antibiotic resistance. As this problem can rarely be seen physically, the multitude of scary statistics and apocalyptic stories released by the media have little impact on the wider public. So how do we begin to make this problem visible when it is caused by microscopic organisms? Furthermore, how can we make people relate to something that, abiding by the laws of human vision, is pretty much invisible?
It was this very question that led me to once again team up with artist and visual expert Siam Colvine. Siam and I have worked on numerous microbiology projects and last year launched a science media company called Game Dr. Unlike our earlier content targeted mostly at school pupils, we wanted to create a resource that would engage and educate young adults (specifically ages 16-30). Prior to development, we agreed upon three requirements: 1) the resource had to be visually entertaining, 2) it would be capable on evoking an emotional response, and 3) it had to be scientifically accurate. With Siam having extensive experience in filmmaking, the decision to produce a creative short film was a no brainer. And with my passion for antibiotic resistance and the Bacteria Combat project still fresh in our minds, the story of the film swiftly fell into place.
Through contemporary dance, the film tells the story of a powerful antibiotic who is forced to battle against a wide range of bacteria (top left). In the beginning, the antibiotic is both strong and confident and easily defeats commensal and infectious bacteria (top right). However, when the antibiotic is forced to battle against resistant bacteria, he struggles and becomes exhausted (bottom left). Finally, as the resistance spreads among the bacterial population, he gives in to his opponents and is defeated (bottom right).
The filmmaking process was divided into four key procedures: writing, production design, casting and film production. Each procedure required collaboration with experts in diverse fields. Throughout the writing period, we collaborated with several microbiologists including Dr. Adam Roberts (UCL) and Dr. Daniel Walker (University of Glasgow) to ensure our story was scientifically accurate. During production design, we audience tested our content and ideas to ensure they were relevant for the target audience. For casting, we recruited an exceptional choreographer and martial arts expert that helped us recruit our wonderful dancers. Finally, for film production, we collaborated with a well-established production company, Little City Pictures, to ensure our final product was of the highest quality.
The Antibiotic Apocalypse team was comprised of scientists, artists, filmmakers, choreographers, science communicators and dancers. Photography by Little City Pictures.
To ensure that our story was visually immersive and engaging for the audience, we strived to embed styling, design and creativity within every component of the film. Contemporary dance rather than direct combat was used to showcase the microbial battles. We developed unique styling for commensal bacteria, infectious bacteria and the antibiotic. Individual character profiles were also created for each dancer based on my knowledge of bacterial pathogenesis. In addition, we selected emotive music (after listening to 4 million songs) that fitted the visuals perfectly and used powerful choreography alongside coloured powder to showcase collisions between antibiotic and bacteria. Finally, a custom-made glove was used to represent resistance and was passed between bacteria to demonstrate the mechanism of horizontal gene transfer.
A custom-made glove was utilized to demonstrate the carriage of antibiotic resistance among the bacterial population.
The outcome of this process was Antibiotic Apocalypse, an educational short that utilized dance, art and creative storytelling to engage viewers with the problem of antibiotic resistance. The film was released in May and has been utilized in many college and school classrooms across Scotland. We have performed formal evaluation of the film that we are currently in the process of publishing. In addition, the film is currently being shown in GP waiting rooms in Greater Glasgow and is also being utilized as a learning resource at University of Edinburgh and Drexel University, Philadelphia.
After winning the Biology prize for Science magazine’s Dance your PhD competition, we are currently at 20,000 views on YouTube with the film being viewed across the globe. And while we are still assessing analytics to determine the overall attitude of viewers toward the film, Antibiotic Apocalypse has ignited curiosity among my friends, allowing me to finally put a face and story to the problem of antibiotic resistance.
World Antibiotic Awareness Week 2016 runs from 14-20 November and aims to increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy makers. You can follow the WHO-led campaign on Twitter using the #WAAW hashtag. To highlight European Antibiotic Awareness Day on 18th Nov the Biochemical Society, the Society for Applied Microbiology and the Royal Society of Biology are organising a TweetChat from 3-4pm. You can follow the chat using #AntibioticFuture. If have a question you’d like to ask please send it to @biochemSoc, @SfAMtweets or @RoyalSocBio by 16th November.