‘Immune Wars: Bugs & Beyond’ Outreach Programme Teaches Children About Bacteria

Posted on: 21 December 2012

Immunology researchers at Trinity College Dublin were awarded a Royal Dublin Society Science Live Demonstration Bursary to develop an interactive demonstration to introduce children to the microbial world of bacteria and the concept of the protective immune system.

The ‘Immune Wars: Bugs & Beyond’ demonstration lecture shows students the microorganisms that live all around us and can potentially infect us. It allows the children to visualise the bugs up close introducing the immune system’s response as ‘Defenders of our health’, and discusses how the body’s immune cells (phagocytes) attack and kill invading bacteria ensuring that we stay healthy.

To communicate these complex scientific concepts to the children researchers at the School of Biochemistry and Immunology Drs Rachel McLoughlin, Nigel Stevenson, James Harris and Professor Cliona O’Farelly created a short movie based on their work in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute and developed a game of ‘Phagocyte Catch’ which involved the children splitting into teams of ‘bacteria’ and the ‘phagocytes’. The bacteria were equipped with plastic balls and their goal is to infect the ‘body’ (a paddling pool). At the same time the phagocytes are equipped with fishing nets and must defend the body.

 “Children are familiar with the concepts of infection through visits to the doctor, courses of antibiotics or watching a cut on their knee oozing pus and eventually healing. However, they are not so familiar with the organisms that cause these infections and how their bodies are protected from infection,” explained Dr Rachel McLoughlin, lecturer in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology and coordinator of the project.

‘The Immune Wars’ team rolled out their interactive lecture to a large audience of primary school children recently in the RDS in addition to visiting Scoil Mhuire Naofa, Kiltale in Co Meath and St Vincent’s Girls’ National School, North William St, Dublin 1.

“At all events the feedback received from both the children and their teachers was fantastic. Seeing the bacteria with their own eyes completely enthralled the children and participating in the game of phagocyte catch captured their imagination and gave them a real appreciation of how the immune system functions. It is hoped that this interactive lecture will now form part of the School of Biochemistry and Immunology’s outreach activities on an annual basis,” commented Dr Nigel Stevenson.