BashTheBug is a Citizen Science project that aims to help researchers determine which antibiotics, and at which doses, can be used to treat different strains of Tuberculosis (TB). TB is responsible for more deaths annually than any other infectious disease and recently strains that are resistant to the standard six-month treatment course have emerged.
The CRyPTIC project collected samples of M. tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB, from up to 100,000 people globally from 2016 to 2021. Each sample of M. tuberculosis had its whole genome sequenced and also its susceptibility to a panel of 14 different antibiotics tested. The latter was done using a specially-designed 96-well microtitre plate, an example of which is shown below and you can read more about in this post.
The two wells in the bottom right have no antibiotic present – these are the control wells – and therefore if the bacteria do not grow here, there may be something wrong with the plate or conditions. All of the remaining 94 wells have a single antibiotic at a specified dosage. To determine the susceptibility of each sample, we therefore need to assess in which wells the bacterium can grow (and therefore which dosages of antibiotics do not work) and in which wells it cannot grow (and therefore which antibiotics do work). The problem is determining which wells have growth and which do not is a subjective; even experts will disagree on which is the first well with a sufficient dosage to kill the bacterium.
This is where Citizen Science and The Zooniverse comes to the rescue! By asking multiple volunteers to classify each image and then taking a consensus, we hope to produce an accurate dataset. Since each image is also studied by a single expert, it will be interesting to see whether the greater experience of the expert is out-weighed by the greater consistency of the Crowd of volunteers.
The main researcher behind BashTheBug is Dr Philip W Fowler (PWF). He is affiliated to the large Modernising Medical Microbiology Group at the University of Oxford which is based at the John Radcliffe Hospital. You can reach him via the BashTheBug talk boards, or email (bashthebug AT gmail.com)
BashTheBug has a slightly cheeky Twitter persona that you can also message.
Funding and Support
- PWF is grateful for support from the Oxford BRC which is funded by the NIHR.
- The BashTheBug project would not have been possible without the help of The Zooniverse, especially Helen Spiers.
- The images being classified are produced by the international CRyPTIC consortium, which is funded by Wellcome, The Newton Fund and the MRC