Superbugs, for dummies

Updated: Dec 17, 2019, 09:00 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

Through an India-UK collaboration, a two-month-long exhibition comes to Mumbai tomorrow to create awareness about antibiotic resistance.

The 3D art installation depicting the evolution of antibiotics
The 3D art installation depicting the evolution of antibiotics

One sometimes find what one is not looking for," said Alexander Fleming, after he discovered penicillin in 1928, a group of antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections. Fleming's discovery changed the course of medicine forever. But he also left us with a warning: "[If] The dose is too small, the microbes will not be able to be killed, and there is a danger that it will be educated to resist Penicillin." It is this statement, and the rise of cases related to antibiotic-resistant bacteria that lays the ground of Superbugs: The End of Antibiotics? which is, a travelling exhibition that comes to Mumbai's Nehru Science Centre (NSC) this week, after an opening at the National Science Centre in New Delhi.

For this show, India will join hands with the UK as it is being organised by the National Council of Science Museums (NCSM), Science Museum Group, Wellcome and Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and is supported by the British Council. It explores the challenges of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and antibacterial resistance (ABR) that gives rise to the "superbug" through scientific research and personal stories via photography, audio and video. There is also a 3D art installation that depicts the evolution of antibiotics.

Resistant bacteria in petri dishes. Pic courtesy/The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London
Resistant bacteria in petri dishes. Pic courtesy/The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

The event took a year of planning as facts and figures had to be collected. "The exhibition was originally showcased at London's Science Museum and was very successful. But we had to make it India-specific. So, since the population in the UK isn't as much as it is here, their records were perfect. For instance, they could give an exact figure to how many people used antibiotics in a given hospital. We don't have that kind of database so it was a big challenge. But ICMR is now exploring this area," says Samarendra Kumar, director (Hqrs), NCSM.

Spread across 500 sq metres of the venue, the exhibition is divided into three sections: microscopic, human section and global. While the first delves into the millions of bacteria species — the harmless and the beneficial — the second talks about stakeholders ranging from scientists and doctors to pharmacists and the common people. The last section talks about the global spread of bacteria. Since the show continues for two months, activities such as public lectures, panel discussions and street plays are also being planned around it.

The exhibition at the National Science Centre in Delhi
The exhibition at the National Science Centre in Delhi

"The idea is to give people a well-rounded perspective. Usually, they just visit a chemist to buy an antibiotic and continue a course. But they need to exercise caution. We hope it appeals to all age groups; we even have a puppet show for children," Kumar says, while SM Khened, director of NSC, adds, "This resistance is not a new phenomenon per se. Like all of us, bacteria also evolve and adapt. And it is the overuse or under-use that makes these microbes resistant. We need to look at the
way forward."

On December 18 to February 16, 11.30 am to 5.30 pm
At Nehru Science Centre, Dr E Moses Road, Worli.
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Free

Samarendra Kumar
Samarendra Kumar

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