Plant Doctors at Hethersett VC Junior School, Norwich

01 Jul 2014

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Written by Minghui Yin (University of Edinburgh/BSPP Outreach Intern).

On the 13th June we had a very busy day, training up the next generation of plant doctors at Hethersett VC Junior School near Norwich. BSPP Outreach worked closely with Dr Mark Banfield (Project Leader, John Innes Centre) to run a whole day of activities with 50 year 6 students.

Before the event, we met Mark and the teachers to have a good hunt around the school playing fields to find out which plant pathogens and pests the students could examine. I was feeling pretty nervous and excited but thankfully all our hard work preparing for the event paid off…

On the day, Mark gave a very interesting introductory talk about plant pathology and his life as a research scientist. Students were asked to think about how plants impact on their world. We hoped that the event would help inspire them to become more interested in the world of plants and their pathogens.

In the morning, students made models of plant pathogens and got really creative! Two students made a model of a fungal pathogen with both summer and winter spores, and another model included 'chemical bombs', which explode when inside plants to digest nutrients.

Students also went into the playing field with Mark and I to hunt for signs of plant pathogens and pests.

We found a great number of plant pathogens, including dock leaves with a potential viral infection, leaf miner moths, lots of insect mite galls on sycamore leaves, powdery mildew, and a few grasses with unknown rust fungus! We collected suspicious leaves and insects to look at them up-close, under the microscopes later on.

In the afternoon, students trained to become Plant Doctors by diagnosing bean plants with rust and tobacco plants with tobacco mosaic virus. Students used the microscopes to look at the leaf samples they had collected. They also watched a ladybird eating an aphid. One of our volunteers, Dr Peter van Esse, explained that ladybirds can be used in this way as bio-control.

Students then wrote their own Leafy Crime Scene Report about what they had discovered about plant disease. Have a look at these photos for some examples.

At the end of the day, Mark gave a summary talk and we gave out prizes for our favourite plant pathogen models.

It was a great day, as the students were really excited about the activities and particularly enjoyed playing with the microscopes and looking at insect galls. The students asked some really interesting questions.

One volunteer, Kirsty Jackson, said she was asked: 'What colour are bacteria or do they not reflect light?' This was something she hadn't really thought about before.

We would like to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers for their fantastic help and support.

  • John Innes Centre: Kirsty Jackson, John Steele and Benjamin Hall.
  • The Sainsbury Laboratory: Lucy McCann and Dr Peter van Esse.
  • Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research: Jens Maintz.

We would like to say thank you to the teachers and staff at Hetheresett VC Junior School for their help with organising and running the day.

Finally a huge thanks to Dr Mark Banfield who put in so much time and energy into making the sure the whole day ran smoothly and that it was engaging for all students!

Dr Mark Banfield said: 'I thought the walking around the school grounds and the “microscopes and investigations” activities went very well.’

Katie Tomlinson (BSPP Outreach Officer) said: 'We had a great day with the students. I particularly liked seeing how engaged they were with using microscopes and were really excited to see larvae inside insect galls'.

Marc Harding (year 6 Teacher at Hethersett VC Junior School) said: that the students learnt 'to look closely and be more curious and questioning'. And that they gained 'a sound understanding of what problems plants face and a good understanding of how plants are used and what they need to thrive.'