Researchers from the Manchester Immunology Group’s outreach activity the Worm Wagon lead by Dr Sheena Cruickshank and Professor Kathryn Else and aided by FLS researchers Emma Murphy, Lydia Castelli, Mushref Assas, Vicky Kinsley, Lydia Castelli, John Lees, Maria Glymenaki, Ruth Stoney, Katherine Roberts and Michael Bramhall were in Bethnal Green, East London from the 14th to the 16th November. They were part of just 20 selected groups from across the UK taking part in the BBSRC 20 year anniversary celebration ‘The Great British Bioscience Festival’. A giant, pink, inflatable bowel stand about gut activity was fittingly placed next to Team Worm as they showcased wriggly parasites. Disturbingly long tapeworms in jars were swirled by the hands of thoroughly unperturbed children. Parents stared engrossed by tiny schistosomes and then encouraged their children to pose as the blood fluke Schistosoma for a photo in our Parasite ‘selfie’ stand. The ‘Schistosome selfie’ stand was a great success with many people, young and old, providing a talking point on Twitter.
The Worm Wagon was answering the important question: “How do we catch infections?” With an eye-catching range of enticing activities and real parasite samples, Team Worm talked to people about parasites and infections and learned from the stories they shared on infection. On the Friday the festival was populated with groups of School children, engaged in the most shockingly visual lesson on the importance of good hygiene of their lives. On Saturday and Sunday the public were invited to stare in cold disbelief at the grim size of a giant roundworm (Ascaris – 35 cm long and the width of a earthworm), as a cheerful volunteer informed them that these enormous parasites infect one billion people in countries where faecal matter (poo) is not properly disposed of. Feedback included “Good presentation, very informative”, “Enlightening, most imaginative” and “The person who spoke to me was very informative and the displays were visually enticing- I really enjoyed the display”.
The stand’s giant jigsaws were a hit with the younger children and, once completed, showed the life cycle stages of various parasites – often highlighting the key role of poo for many parasites and the importance of washing your hands (always a hit with the parents!). Other children wandered across to the rangoli to draw colourful worms, while their parents discussed parasite infections with the Worm Wagon volunteers. Videos of life cycles accompanied the jigsaws and can be seen here. People were given Parasite Top Trumps and World Diseases Top Trumps cards to take home with. Many visitors also chose to take on the scientists, to some tense Top Trump challenges!
Before leaving visitors were encouraged to vote on important questions such as “Should all pregnant women be screened for Toxoplasma?” and “Can parasites be controlled?” by placing balls in tubes in our evaluation stand. People were shocked to learn about the impact of Toxoplasma on pregnancy and how little testing or information is provided. Other people commented particularly on the lack of funding for the neglected tropical diseases we study; “Really interesting research. Gets one’s mind thinking. Research truly hasn’t been advancing as fast as technology and needs more attention”.
Written by Ruth Stoney and Michael Bramhall