Great Southern Grammar gets MicroBlitzed

Professor Andrew Whiteley, leader of the citizen-science project MicroBlitz and South Coast NRM carbon farming project officer Charlotte Powis held a workshop with the schoolchildren back in August and showed them how to extract DNA from strawberries and taught them why bacteria is essential for producing healthy, sustainable soils.

Professor Whiteley also encouraged the students to draw their favourite type of microbe. The drawings were then uploaded to Facebook and people voted for their favourite picture.

In an award ceremony at the school on Tuesday Lily Kuret was announced the winner of the competition by popular vote. “The workshop proved a great way to educate the students,” Ms Powis said.

“Strawberries are full of highly visible DNA, so by seeing it, the students could get a clear visual on what DNA looks like and its links to DNA sequencing which is used to discover what microbes live in our soils.

“We also taught the children that both good and bad bacteria exist. This revelation clearly excited their interest and got them understanding that there is more to the environment that what you can see with the naked eye. It also produced some great artwork too.”

South Coast NRM also made a short film of the workshop entitled Microbes in the Classroom which can be viewed at – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UooySSBXBQM&feature=youtu.be

The MicroBlitz program has been designed to engage the public in science by collecting soil samples from across WA for DNA sequencing to identify the microorganisms living in the soil.

This research is based on the work Professor Whiteley conducted in the UK – a world first where DNA sequencing technology was used to map the environmental genome of the entire country.

South Coast NRM has been working with Professor Whiteley and UWA PhD student Kanako Tomita over the last 18 months to identify bacterial communities on agricultural land in the South coast using DNA sequencing technology.

The project is part of the Australian Government funded Climate Action on Farms project which supports farmers to improve productivity and profitability by increasing soil carbon using  different farming management practices.