Let’s get viral!

Viruses can be found everywhere and are the most abundant “organisms” on the planet. However, they are often (wrongly) thought of only as evil entities causing human disease, which leaves out important viruses/bacteriophages capable of, for example, helping to fight the current antibiotic crisis that is affecting people all over the globe. This is why the “Battle Station: Infection” event, as part of the “Meet the Scientists” initiative, was the perfect setting to talk about the “good” and the “bad” viruses and how they can help us in the battle against antibiotic resistance.

On Saturday 27th of January, an IIB team comprised of Evelien Adriaenssens, Wai Yee Fong, Siân Owen and Lizeth Lacharme-Lora joined me at the World Museum in the “Let’s get viral” activity, supported by a Wellcome Trust Public Engagement grant. I was aiming to inspire children to take an interest in viruses/bacteriophages and to raise awareness of their importance & lesser-known benefits, which was successfully accomplished with an extraordinary turn up of over 1500 participants!

“Let’s get viral” was designed as a virus/bacteriophage assembly workshop in which children had the opportunity to put together and decorate models of viruses while speaking to experts in the field. The virus model used was chosen depending on the age and skills of the child, but we strongly encouraged parents/guardians to engage in the activity as well. For older children and skilful (highly tolerant to frustration) adults, we had pre-cut paper models designed by Siân Owen (check them out and give it a go!), whereas polystyrene models were decorated by younger children.

The journey started days before the event, with hundreds of paper and polystyrene virus models prepared for assembly thanks to the valuable help of members of IIB’s Lab H (in exchange for treats and drinks –of course!) at the “Phage Cutting Marathon”. These models, together with posters and plush toys of real viruses (www.GiantMicrobes.com), helped us convey fundamental virology concepts in a format understandable to children.

After a very busy day, and with hands covered in glue stick, we all agreed that the experience was a total success and we encourage anyone who would like to run it again!

Blanca Perez Sepulveda

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