Elementary Student Outreach Activity Demonstrating the Use of Phage Therapy Heroes to Combat Bacterial Infections.

Published on Mar 30, 2018in Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education
· DOI :10.1128/JMBE.V19I1.1407
Mya Breitbart67
Estimated H-index: 67
(USF: University of South Florida),
Kema Malki3
Estimated H-index: 3
(USF: University of South Florida)
+ 2 AuthorsMark O. Martin3
Estimated H-index: 3
(UPS: University of Puget Sound)
The public has recently gained an increased appreciation of “good” or “friendly” bacteria, including commensal bacteria that are part of the healthy human microbiome (1) and bacteria present in common probiotic food products such as yogurt (2). Despite this new perception of bacteria, the term “virus” still has a predominantly negative connotation that is almost exclusively associated with disease (3). Consequently, the public frequently asks questions such as “Are there any good viruses?” In fact, there are many viruses that have mutualistic relationships with their hosts (4), but one viral group of particular interest for benefiting human health is the bacteriophages (phages: viruses that infect bacteria), which can specifically kill disease-causing bacterial pathogens. Battles between superheroes and villains easily capture the attention and enthusiasm of young learners, presenting an excellent opportunity to introduce interactions within the microbial world. This activity, which is appropriate for elementary-school children in a classroom or outreach setting, introduces learners to the concept of phage therapy, where certain phages (heroes) are used to destroy bacterial pathogens (villains) in a targeted and specific approach that does not negatively affect commensal bacteria (5). The specificity of phage therapy provides an advantage over antibiotic treatments, which disrupt the healthy microbiome. In addition, phage therapy presents an alternative strategy to treat bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics (6). In this activity, participants will learn about phage infection and host specificity by viewing photos of plaque assays performed in a laboratory with chromogenic bacteria, followed by a hands-on “fishing” activity using the phage heroes’ superpowers of specificity (hooks, Velcro, magnets) to capture particular bacterial villains. Templates are also provided for making custom temporary tattoos as activity rewards and for printing phage comic strips for a coloring activity.
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