There is a Dalek in the BBC that could actually help save your life

Bacteria collected from a Doctor Who Dalek in BBC Broadcasting House could be the key to exterminating future diseases

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There is a Dalek in the BBC that, far from wanting to exterminate, could actually end up saving all of humanity.

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Now, let’s explain. The Dalek in question stands guard in the foyer of BBC’s Broadcasting House in London. When a team of scientists examined bacteria collected from the surface of the Doctor Who villain’s ‘eystalk’, they discovered something very exciting that could help solve an impending medical crisis.

“Bacteria are absolutely everywhere, and many of them naturally produce antibiotics that might be of interest to medicine at some point in the future,” said Radio 4’s Inside Science presenter Dr Adam Rutherford on this morning’s Today programme. 

“Now we face this incredible medical crisis,” he explained. A recent report warned that resistance to antibiotics could kill 10 million a year by 2050 if no new drugs to fight infections are found.

“We have run out of antibiotics that work,” Rutherford added. “So a project led by a guy called Adam Roberts at University College London called ‘Swab and Send’ is asking people to swab their everyday environment, get hold of bacteria in their homes, and send them in – just in case they contain new antibiotics that could be developed.”

So Rutherford went collecting bacteria from around the BBC, including from Radio 4 presenter microphones and the Broadcasting House Dalek, and sent the samples to the university.

And guess what? “The Dalek provided not one, but four potential novel antibiotics.”

The sample showed that four separate colonies of ‘Dalek’ bacteria appeared to be producing antibiotics that could potentially be developed as a medicine for the future.

“We’ve got at least three different types of bacteria from the Dalek that were able to ‘exterminate’ our Micrococcus indicator strain,” said Dr Adam Roberts, clearly with a gift for both medical research and sci-fi references. 

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Listen to the moment Rutherford discovered the “good Dalek” below, and catch the full episode of Inside Science on iPlayer.