Scientists seek surfer butts to study super-bacteria

A new project out of the UK called (wait for it) "Beach Bums" is looking to collect rectal swabs from surfers to research antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Cowabunga!

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
2 min read

Scientists have a hard job. Not only are they charged with solving some of the world's most complex problems, but a good number of them have to work with parts of the human body some of us non-scientists might find disgusting, often right before their lunch break.

Take, for instance, the researchers behind (no pun intended) a new project in the United Kingdom. They're trying to understand the effects of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that come from polluted seawater tainted by raw, human sewage by asking surfers and bodyboarders to volunteer their butts for science. Don't worry. Volunteers will get their butts back when science is done with them.

The group Surfers Against Sewage (proposed motto: "We're here! We're against sewage! Get used to it!") is working with scientists from the UK's University of Exeter Medical School on a joint study called "Beach Bums." The study aims to learn more about the bacteria by taking rectal swabs from "150 surfers and bodyboarders who surf at least three times a month," as well as volunteers who don't surf for control samples.

Anne Leonard, a biological sciences Ph.D. student at the university's European Centre for Environment and Human Health who's involved in the study, said this week in a press release that the researchers need samples from surfers because they often swallow seawater while trying to catch a wave.

"We've already shown that this water may contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but we have no idea how this might affect the microbes that live in our guts, or how it could impact upon health," Leonard said.

Surfers interested in volunteering must live in England, Wales or Northern Ireland to participate. Also, they must have butts.

Even though words like "butts" and "behinds" are funny, the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is no laughing matter, as it can make it more difficult to treat common infections. The World Health Organization issued a global report last year that said strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria had "reached alarming levels in many parts of the world" and that "surveillance of antibacterial resistance is neither coordinated nor harmonized and there are many gaps in information on bacteria of major public health importance."

This alarming trend also pushed President Barack Obama to issue an executive order in 2014 calling for the establishment of the Task Force for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, and in March of this year to release a five-year plan to study and fight the new bacteria.

So maybe the lesson here is to somehow work more butts into the discussion so we can raise awareness of the problem and combat it once and for all. Oh, butts, is there anything you can't do?

(Via BBC)