Youngsters set for Bacteria Combat app

A game for Android devices that highlights the problem of antibiotic resistance

Carla Brown took the lead in developing the Bacteria Combat app

A new game developed by a PhD student from the University of Glasgow is aiming to help kids understand more about the complicated system of bacteria which live in their gut and how they are affected by antibiotics.

Microbiology student Carla Louise Brown took the lead in developing Bacteria Combat, which will be available for Android devices from 1 November.

Bacteria Combat is aimed at players aged between 8 and 13. They are given cards representing a range of ‘friendly’ and ‘harmful’ bacteria. They face off against a computer-controlled ‘Bacteria Bot’ by pitting their bacteria’s strength, regeneration, speed and resistance scores against each other, with the highest scores winning the round.

Each card also provides a picture of the bacteria and a short description of their characteristics. ‘Joker’ cards representing antibiotics can also help to banish bad bacteria and win the round.

Screenshot from Bacteria Combat

But behind the fun is a serious message. Widespread misuse and overuse of antibiotic medications in people and animals over decades has led to the problem of antibiotic resistance and a dwindling supply of effective antimicrobial therapies.

Disruption of beneficial gut bacteria through increased antibiotic exposure in childhood is also linked to the development of asthma, obesity, autism and inflammatory bowel disease.

The game originally began with a set of cards depicting the bacteria, created by Brown in partnership with Edinburgh-based graphic designer Siam Colvine. After the success of the card game in schools across Scotland, Brown teamed up with a Dundee-based game development company, Future Fossil Studios, to create the app.

Brown said: 'To ensure new classes of antibiotics are used effectively we must also improve public awareness on the specific role of antibiotics against bacteria and also the emerging problem of resistance.

'If antibiotic resistance is not tackled effectively we are at threat of a 'post-antibiotic era' in which minor infections and surgeries could prove fatal. Education of the public will be an extremely important factor in tackling this problem. It is important that we encourage the public to feel more confident about controlling their own healthcare. Science games will be a great method for this.'

Brown's supervisor Dr Daniel Walker of the University’s Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, is leading a group which is developing new classes of antibiotics that target specific bacteria and can overcome the problem of resistance. The group is investigating the efficiency of species specific antibiotics against difficult to treat infections, including the multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection.