Microbiology Society members in action at the Balmoral Show 2019

Posted on June 21, 2019   by Microbiology Society

The Balmoral Show is an annual event held in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. The show is Northern Ireland’s largest agri-food event and provides an opportunity for the public to learn more about a range of subjects, including where their food comes from and how it is made. Importantly, it provides an opportunity for a range of government departments to engage with the public and raise awareness around important issues.

This May, various Society Champions and members took part in the four-day event. We caught up with two of our Society Champions, Chris Proctor at Ulster University and Dr Linda Oyama from Queen’s University Belfast, after the event to find out about their involvement.

Linda: After two weeks of brainstorming, preparing and deciding on ideas of hands-on experiments that would best fit the audience, we were all set to and ready to go at the Queen’s University, Institute for Global Food Security stand. Activities were organised and facilitated by myself and Society Champion Sarah Pidcock, alongside Society members Katie Lawther, James Pickup and Peter Alexander, who are all members of the Huws Lab at QUB, headed by Professor Sharon Huws.

We displayed both beneficial and harmful giant microbes of the gut, as well as clinically-relevant superbugs. There was a station for testing for the presence of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes in ‘farm samples’ taken from across Northern Ireland using a colour-based assay. The aim was to inform the public and farmers about how farming practices may contribute to the problem of AMR and what steps could be taken to reduce AMR from livestock production.

We even had the Chief Medical Officer, Chief Veterinary Officer and the Director of the Food Standards Agency-NI taking part in our testing demo as part of the Launch of the One Health Action Plan against AMR.

There was also a station for DNA extraction and visitors to the stand could take DNA extracts in a microcentrifuge and show off to their friends at home. Lastly, we had the ever-popular playdough microbe model-making stand for our younger audience.

It was nothing short of a fun-filled day with lots of visitors to the stand asking very relevant and engaging questions. The Microbiology Society ‘Marvellous Microbes’ comics on antibiotic use were a huge hit as well.

Chris: This year, along with Amy Sterling, I was involved with helping the Public Health Agency promote awareness of antibiotic resistance on the final day of the Balmoral Show. We had three stations at our stand, each aimed at educating a different age group on antibiotic resistance.

For the youngest visitors we had an activity table where they could either design and build their own microbes out of coloured modelling clay in a petri dish or they could colour in a microbe (such as Simon Staph, Peter Penicillium or Lucy Lactobacillus). This provided an opportunity for us to tell the children (and adults) something about bacteria and how there are both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microbes.

For the older children, we had an activity dedicated to teaching them all about sneezing. Here we had a ‘sneezing’ Shrek mask. Children were asked to mark on the table how far they thought Shrek’s sneeze might travel. Then with the help of some fake snot, Shrek sneezed showing the children that a sneeze can travel up to three metres. Children were then invited to help Shrek cover his nose and mouth when he sneezed. This showed the children that even when you cover your nose and mouth, germs can still easily spread when you touch a surface or another person. Finally, children were asked to cover Shrek’s mouth and nose with a tissue, teaching them that if they use a tissue they can catch the germs in a sneeze and prevent their spread by washing their hands immediately. We then reinforced the message of ‘catch it, bin it, kill it.’

For adults, we had a station encouraging them to sign up to become an Antibiotic Guardian, which is a simple scheme designed to educate members of the public of the need to preserve the efficacy of antibiotics and to reinforce what antibiotics should and should not be used for.

Many visitors decided to sign up to one or more individual ‘pledges’ such as treating symptoms of coughs and colds before resorting to seeing their GP or ensuring they take antibiotics exactly as prescribed.