Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

The Big Prize

In a modern revival of an early 18th century engineering competition that changed the world, the citizens of the UK have chosen antibiotic resistance as a critical scientific problem and are offering a $17 million prize to anyone who can develop faster ways to detect resistant microbes, the BBC reports.

The new Longitude Prize is named after the 1714 competition that sought tools for determining position at sea without using ordinary clocks, which were unreliable in the ocean due to sea-jostle and were getting people lost and making them late. The result of that competition was the marine chronometer.

Hoping to catch lightning in a bottle again, the UK's Technology Strategy Board and the science charity Nesta recently asked the public to vote online for the most pressing among several scientific priorities. Their options included sustainable food production; developing technologies to heal paralyzed people or help them function better; integrated systems for caring for and enabling people with dementia; create new water desalination tools; and technologies to enable 'green' or sustainable air travel.

But the voters, who made their choice online, decided on antibiotic resistance. The challenge is to create a cheap, accurate, rapid, and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections that will enable doctors and nurses around the globe to target their treatments and administer antibiotics at the correct times.

Wellcome Trust Director Jeremy Farrar was "delighted" by the results. "Antibiotics, and indeed the multitude of drugs used daily to treat infection, are the bedrock on which much of modern medicine is built," he says, but adds that drug resistance threatens many medical successes. "It is crucial we focus our collective global research efforts on this, one of the greatest public health threats of our time."