Apocalypse Now: This Family Built a Castle to Survive Doomsday


The family behind the National Geographic Channel's "Doomsday Castle." From left to right: Brent II, Lindsey, Brent, Michael, Ashley, Dawn-Marie.

The family behind the National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Castle.” From left to right: Brent II, Lindsey, Brent, Michael, Ashley, Dawn-Marie.

SOURCE  –  By Douglas Main, Staff Writer 

Atop one large foothill here deep in the Carolina woods lies a most unlikely site: a castle, replete with a drawbridge, portcullis — and an underground bunker.

The castle is the handiwork of a family aiming to protect itself from an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), which they think could take out electricity grids. So they’re going medieval, training to use crossbows and building a catapult to defend themselves against marauders that might come in a doomsday scenario.

The family is the subject of a new show on the National Geographic Channel called “Doomsday Castle,” which premiers at 10 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Aug. 13. Family members aren’t disclosing their last name or location for fear of curious and/or hostile fans showing up on their castle step.

The father, Brent Sr., is the ringleader and a retired Army officer, and hatched a plan for the castle before Y2K, when people worried a computer glitch would unleash mass havoc beginning Jan. 1, 2000. While on a press trip to visit the family and their castle, LiveScience got a chance to sit down with Brent Sr. and with some of his 10 children, including Brent II, age 41, as well as younger son Michael and daughter Dawn-Marie. (Brent II is often at odds with the rest of his family and prefers to use the suffix “II” instead of “Jr.”)

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Is this antibiotic apocalypse?

We need to heed the chief medical officer’s warning about drug-resistant bacteria, says Michael Hanlon

English: Magnified 20,000X, this colorized sca...

English: Magnified 20,000X, this colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) depicts a grouping of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria. See PHIL 617 for a black and white view of this image. These S. aureus bacteria are methicillin-resistant, and are from one of the first isolates in the U.S. that showed increased resistance to vancomycin as well. Note the increase in cell wall material seen as clumps on the organisms’ surface. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine a world where a scratch would strike terror into your soul. A place where giving birth is a life-and-death experience, where every sore throat and stomach upset is potentially lethal. A world where almost no surgeon will operate unless the only alternative is certain death, and where chemotherapy is too deadly to contemplate. This could be our awful future, according to Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s chief medical officer. She has warned that the world faces an antibiotic apocalypse, a “ticking time bomb”, and a “catastrophic threat to the population” as medicine faces the prospect of losing probably the most powerful weapon in its armoury – the effective antibiotic.

The tragedy is that this is a disaster of our own making. Thanks to a combination of profligacy, wilful stupidity, the laziness of thousands of doctors, and the selfish persistence of millions of patients in demanding instant cures for minor illnesses that would go away on their own, simple bacterial infections could once again become the scourge of humanity.

When antibiotics were developed in the 1930s and 1940s, doctors found themselves equipped with cheap, safe and effective miracle drugs that transformed the prognoses of millions of patients. The first penicillin antibiotics were incredibly effective against a host of diseases, such as tuberculosis, and in fighting off myriad infections caught through bacterial transmission or as a result of accidental or surgical wounds.

In the Forties, Fifties and Sixties, it seemed that the germs had no answers to penicillin and other wonder drugs, which along with sanitation and vaccination, were responsible for adding years, and then decades, to life expectancies across the planet. When one bacterial species proved to be resistant to the antibiotic armageddon being rained down upon it, new drugs would emerge from the pharmaceutical laboratories, synthesised and semi-synthetic versions of natural compounds produced by species of fungus (such as Penicillium itself and Acremonium).

The hardiest bacteria, such as E. coli, held their ground until a new class of antibiotics, the carbapenems, was developed in the 1980s. These were the hydrogen bombs of the antibiotic world, able to outwit the cleverest evolutionary and molecular tricks of our bacterial foes.

But in the last two decades, we’ve had a problem. No antibiotic, however potent, is ever completely effective. Like that disinfectant which “kills 99 per cent of germs”, it is the one per cent that survive which you have to worry about.

Bacteria reproduce, by dividing, at an alarming, exponential rate. One becomes two becomes millions in days. Amid this frenzied asexual promiscuity, the bacterial genome gets the chance to be endlessly tweaked and modified. As with most mutations, these alterations will usually be either fatal or unremarkable. But a few will, by chance, confer upon the microbe the ability to see off the best the medicine can do – including the carbapenems that may have turned out to be our weapon of last resort.

In the late 1990s, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a germ resistant to both the penicillin-based and cephalosporin antibiotics, emerged. It rapidly became the scourge of our hospitals. Most strains of MRSA are almost impossible to treat and the only line of defence (as our hospital managers have belatedly realised) is better hygiene.

Then, in the late Noughties, a new “indestructible” germ emerged from India, an E. coli gut bacterium modified by a gene called NDM-1 (New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase-1). Worryingly, the DNA responsible for the mutation has been found to be capable of being transmitted easily to other species of bacteria.

This sad story is a version of the “tragedy of the commons” – a disaster that occurs when an action beneficial to an individual causes great harm to the community. The main cause of the antibiotic apocalypse has been overprescribing, which increases the exposure of bacteria in the population as a whole to the drug in question, and gives these microbes more opportunity to evolve resistance.

For half a century, the mildly ill, the hypochondriacal and the worried well have demanded – and often been given – antibiotics to treat bacterial infections that are so mild they will be dealt with in a few days by the body’s immune system. Worse, many have taken antibiotics for illnesses – such as colds and influenza – that are not caused by bacteria but by viruses, which are immune to antibiotics. Such over-prescription greatly increased the chance of resistance emerging. And while antibiotic overuse has declined in the West, it has exploded in India and China, where the drugs are usually sold prescription-free.

Another major cause is the massive quantity of antibiotics fed to livestock. Cattle, pigs and chickens are not just given the drugs to cure illness, but for their side effects, which include their ability to stimulate growth.

Although banned in the EU, such prophylactic use is common across the world – so common that in the United States, it is hard for farmers to obtain feed that does not contain these drugs. As well as increasing exposure to antibiotics generally, there is the risk that drug-resistant strains may enter the human population through food.

Finally, we have not seen a new class of antibiotics since 1987. It does not make sense for drug companies to spend huge amounts creating a low-profit drug that may only be effective for weeks, until the bacteria evolve a new line of defence. Leaving the development of drugs to market forces is proving to be an ineffective and inefficient way of improving the medical arsenal.

So is the antibiotic apocalypse inevitable, or as big a risk to our society, as Sally Davies warns, as international terrorism?

Not necessarily. New rules are needed to discourage, even penalise, overprescribing. According to Professor Richard James, an expert in bacterial infections at the University of Nottingham, it might be worth exploring “economic measures, such as a tax on antibiotic use, to prevent [this] tragedy of the commons scenario”; the income from such a tax could be channelled into new research.

Global co-operation is also needed. Countries where antibiotics are available over the counter need to change their laws to stop the practice. Antibiotic resistance is exacerbated by international travel, so we need more screening at airports. We need new ways to encourage drug firms to invest in antibiotics. And we need all this fast – otherwise, our children will wonder why our generation and the generation before squandered one of the greatest advances in health and wellbeing ever stumbled upon by humanity.


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