COCCUS POCUS 2021: A MICROBIOLOGY-INSPIRED SCARY STORY COMPETITION
Posted on March 14, 2022 by Dr Georgios Efthimiou, Univ. of Hull (Co-Editor-in-Chief for Access Microbiology)
In October 2021, the Department of Biomedical and Forensic Sciences at the University of Hull, UK launched an exciting scary story competition for Halloween: Coccus Pocus 2021! The event was organised for a third time, following two successful runs in 2019 and 2020. Read on to find out more about this year's competition.
For 2021’s Coccus Pocus competition, the scary stories focused on biofilms and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Biofilms are the thick, slimy layers formed on various surfaces by pathogenic microbes. These biofilms protect against antibiotics, detergents and the attacks from the immune system. In addition, increases in AMR in harmful micro-organisms is a major public health concern, as it is leading to a huge increase in untreatable, life-threatening infections, especially in hospital environments.
The competition was supported by the National Biofilms Innovation Centre as part of their #BiofilmAware campaign, which is all about helping people to understand what biofilms are and why they are so important.
This year, our fantastic network of Coccus Pocus Ambassadors grew from four members to 15, including new ambassadors from France, Greece, Malta and Denmark! Their enthusiastic contribution led to a lot of scarier story submissions this year (19 compared to four received last year). In addition, nine of these 19 stories came from a secondary school (age group 12—17). Until now, all entries were from university students, so we were delighted to see school pupils participating too!
Contestants were encouraged to write a short horror or sci-fi story between 500 and 2,000 words, including themes of antimicrobial resistance and/or microbial biofilms. The evaluation committee ranked stories according to the intrigue of their plot, use of language, character description and scientific soundness.
The first prize for the 18+ age group (a £100 Amazon voucher) was awarded to Ms Lizzy Cairns, a microbiology MSc student from the University of Glasgow, UK. Her awesome story, ‘The slime of ancient mariner’, is about a nautical journey were the crew members encounter an ancient oceanic biofilm with catastrophic intentions.
Ms Aleyna Lumsden, a biomedical science undergraduate from the University of Warwick, UK, received the second prize (a £30 voucher) for her story Golden Berries, where a group of bacteriophages travel through a slimy Staphylococcus aureus biofilm. Finally, Ms Rhianne Lee, again an undergraduate student from the University of Warwick, was given the third prize (a £20 voucher) for her story Dissociation, which tells us the tale of a patient suffering from an antibiotic-resistant black fungus that causes some very weird symptoms.
All winners in the 12—17 age group were from Engineering UTC Northern Lincolnshire and were motivated by their creative engineering teacher, Zoe Hennchen. The first prize (a £100 Amazon voucher) was awarded to Libby for the story ‘The plane crush’, the second prize (£30) to Jakob who wrote ‘Biofilm World’ and the 3rd prize (£20) to Georgie for ‘Bio-film: A horror story’.Download the prize winning stories here
We aspire that the competition will be held again and again around the country and even abroad (we actually received an entry from Brazil this year), aiming to increase public awareness about the important problem of AMR and biofilms, and boost the enthusiasm of young people about the fascinating field of microbiology.
Coccus Pocus will run again in October 2022. Can you think of any biofilm or AMR-related scary stories? Would you like to be one of our Coccus Pocus Ambassadors? And…which university or school will claim our next trophy?