Team:TU Eindhoven/Society/Policy Practices/Children


iGEM Team TU Eindhoven 2014

iGEM Team TU Eindhoven 2014

Children's Book

Which animal is green with orange spots and is really tiny? That can only be Barry the bacterium! Tim has been naughty and accidentally gets hit by a shrink ray! Now that Tim is really small, he meets Barry. Together they meet all sorts of strange animals and travel through the magical Petri-town, but Tim can’t stay small forever. He and Barry have to find a solution! Will you come along on their adventure?

Above one can read the blurb of the children’s book Barry the not-so-bad bacterium. Written for children aged 6 to 10, this hardcover book counts 24 full color pages and tells the story of Tim. Together with Tim, the young readers learn what a biologist is, what bacteria are and that bacteria can get special powers when they eat a plasmid. The children of today are most likely the users of iGEM applications in the future. For that reason, we wrote Barry the not-so-bad bacterium with the following goals in mind.

We want to give children a positive association with the word ‘bacterium’, rather than the negative ones they hear most often. We hope that after reading this book, young children think of a cute, green little creature before thinking of an invisible danger they have to avoid. By no means does the book claim that all bacteria are good. Rather, it tries to explain to children the concept that there are many different kinds of bacteria. Just like animals, there are venomous spiders and lovely kittens among them. Luckily Barry, the bacterium that Tim meets, is a bacterium that turns out to be not so bad. We think that later in life, this attitude helps the children to accept synthetic biology applications.

Furthermore, we would like to see that the book enthuses children for the science of biology. While many young children are immensely intrigued by animals, in the Netherlands they only get their first biology lesson when they are twelve years old. We think that it is never too early to introduce children to the wonders of science and nature. For that reason we gave a guest lesson about synthetic biology at a local elementary school, which is elaborated below. We dream of a world where children yell that they want to be a biologist or scientist when they grow up. We are convinced that reading them stories about scientists instead of princesses and the like will help in this.

Lastly, with Barry the not-so-bad bacterium we tried to target an audience that we found very difficult to get in touch with: the parents of young children. Often aged 25-40, these people have settled in their social and working environment. If biology is not a part of their daily life yet, the only source of information on biology is often the media. The last pages of the book are aimed to the parents of the children, to elaborate the message of the story for them. The more technical details of bacteria and GMO use are discussed and it explains the many advantages and possibilities of genetically modified bacteria applications. With this, we educate not only the children, but also their parents. This is important for easing out prejudices and we hope it leads to a positive change in attitude towards bacteria and GMOs.

Barry the not-so-bad bacterium is written, illustrated and published completely by iGEM team Eindhoven 2014. Originally made in Dutch, we offered free copies of the book to 30 local elementary schools and libraries. Furthermore, the book has been send to various publishers and is currently being reviewed for national publication. Excerpts from the book can be viewed in the slideshow below.

Guest lesson elementary school

We have been to an elementary school to give a guest lesson about biology. We did the lesson in grade four, which in the Dutch education system translates to 6-7 year olds. When in the beginning we asked the children what a bacterium is, the most common answer was ‘a little sickmaker’.

Together with the children we then read Barry the not-so-bad bacterium. Afterwards, they had the opportunity to ask questions. Among these were ‘how small are bacteria really?’, ‘how do you know which bacteria are good and which are bad?’, ‘how many legs do bacteria have?’ and ‘where do baby bacteria come from?’. Especially the answer to the last one the kids found very exciting and some even wanted to undergo division themselves, so that they could have a clone.

Then the children got their first assignment as synthetic biologists in the making: to design their own bacterium and give it a name and special power it got from eating a plasmid. Armed with pencils, markers and a lot of enthusiasm they tackled this assignment. We also brought some bacteria plushes for inspiration, which the kids found very cute. An impression and the results of the assignment can be seen in the slideshow below.

At the end, the children explained in front of the class who their bacterium is and what special power it has. I would like to highlight Sofie’s bacterium: ‘Blubbie’, a good bacterium that has the power to find and defeat bad bacteria.

Giving this guest lesson was a lot of fun for us. It was also received very well. The teacher was positive about the way the book playfully educates children. The class themselves asked repeatedly whether we would give another guest lesson, when a second book of Barry and Tim would come out and how they could become real biologists themselves.

iGEM Team TU Eindhoven 2014