The result of the public vote for the Longitude Prize 2014 has been announced, with the British public selecting the rise of resistance to antibiotics as the biggest scientific challenge of today.
The result means that entrants will now have up to five years to come up with a world-changing solution to the growing threat – the winning idea earning a £10m prize.
The other five candidates included the need for more environmentally-friendly air travel, and the need for sustainable, nutritious food for a growing population.
However, the public chose the threat of a “post-antibiotic era” – where growing resistance to existing drugs means that infections that are currently easily treatable may once again become deadly.
“I am quite surprised. There are some amazing challenges in there but this is such an important challenge which is facing us”, said presenter Prof Alice Roberts, after the result was announced live on the BBC’s The One Show on Wednesday evening.
“From here, what happens is that the Longitude commission will reconvene and they will tighten up exactly what this challenge is going to be,” she explained.
“We know its going to be something about how we tackle antibiotics resistance, it could be a new way of diagnosing a bacterial infection versus a viral infection, something like that. But they’ll narrow down what the challenge is so that we’ll know when there’s a winner.”
Dr Jeremy Farrar, director of medical research charity the Wellcome Trust, added, “Antibiotics, and indeed the multitude of drugs used daily to treat infection, are the bedrock on which much of modern medicine is built.
“Yet rapidly emerging drug resistance threatens the medical successes – from transplant surgery to cancer treatment – we currently take for granted. It is crucial we focus our collective global research efforts on this, one of the greatest public health threats of our time.”
The Longitude Prize takes its name from a 300-year-old act of parliament that offered £20,000 to anyone who could devise a method that nautical navigators could use to calculate their longitude at sea.
In the end, two solutions were devised: one from John Harrison, a self-educated Yorkshire clockmaker, and one from a team including British mathematician John Hadley and German astronomer Tobias Mayer.
This time, the full prize criteria will be announced in autumn and the clock will start for entrants in September. Anyone intending to compete is invited to register their interest at www.longitudeprize.org.
Photo: Global Panorama via Flickr