Welcome to the June 2012 newsletter from Science and Plants for Schools. As always, it’s packed with new teaching resources, ideas and opportunities for your classes, plus the latest round-up of science research.
New Resources - 6 new resources linking core curriculum topics with STEM careers
We’re keen to help you encourage your students to understand where their science lessons could take them, and how the skills and knowledge they learn in class relate to the work of scientists today, in all kinds of jobs. So we’re launching a new collection of six teaching resources to help put science into a modern context of careers, including two resources for each of the age groups 11-14, 14-16 and post-16.
Each of the six resources brings together a careers case study with a contemporary scientist working in a different field, followed by a practical investigation and an opportunity for your pupils to do some research of their own. The resources include student sheets and full technical and teaching notes.
The resources include the following
• Growing the best possible crop: case study of a product manager and a practical activity looking at conducting a fair test (11-14 / KS3)
• Hunting for new anticancer drugs: case study of a medical researcher and a practical activity looking at levels of vitamin C in plants (11-14 / KS3)
• Investigating species richness: case study of an ecologist and a practical activity measuring ecological diversity (14-16 / KS4)
• Conserving endangered species: case study of a conservation biotechnologist and our popular practical on cloning cauliflowers (14-16 / KS4)
• Pharming to combat HIV: case study of a medical researcher and a practical activity looking at antimicrobial properties of herbs (post-16)
• The biophysics of flowers: case study of a researcher and a practical activity looking at the adaptive features of flowers (post-16)
New Resources - 'Careers in Biology' case studies for post-16 students
If your post-16 students are wondering where a career in biology might take them, why not recommend our new careers area on the SAPS website? We've put together 12 videos showing just some of the range of careers open to biologists. From searching for anticancer drugs in the Malaysian rainforest, to running a unique business, these plant scientists are leading the way.
See our careers area
New Resources - Hydroponics and Phytoremediation for the school lab
These two protocols outline a basic hydroponics set-up for the school lab, and then extend it further to look at phytoremediation. The activity investigates the use of hyperaccumulating plants (in this case Indian Mustard) to clean up copper contaminated soils.
View the phytoremediation resource
View the hydroponics resource
This new protocol was written by senior biology technician Helen Bailey, based on the techniques she has developed for her school, funded by a SAPS Associates Award.
New Resource - 'Adaptation, evolution and the physics of coconuts'
If you're looking for something a little bit different for your science club, or your lessons this term, we've got something for you. This activity looks at the amazing physics behind the way that coconuts have evolved to bounce and roll down to the sea and float to new habitats:
Biophysics of Coconuts resource
This resource was developed by Lynn Nickerson, science club co-ordinator at Didcot Girls' School, funded by a SAPS Associates Award.
New Resource – Video demonstrating PCR
Here's a useful video for those of you covering PCR with your A-level students. PCR, which amplifies short sections of DNA, is used in many areas of the biological sciences. One Liverpool University student chose to produce a video about PCR and its use in contemporary science. Working with staff at Sir John Deane’s Sixth Form College, Northwich, Cheshire and research staff from the University of Liverpool, he developed this short video. It starts with an animation of the steps in PCR (targeted at A-level requirements) and then shows how one scientist is using PCR in research into next-generation biofuels. His research is part of an ambition project that aims to overcome the conflict between growing crops for food and for fuel. They hope to use the leftovers from food production, including leaves and stems that are too tough to eat, as the sources of new fuels. To do this, the team need to identify novel microorganisms.
Game - Are you smarter than a plant?
If you're looking for a fun and thought-provoking activity for your students as the school year comes to an end, take a look at this game, developed based on the research of Professor Ottoline Leyser.
Students compete to create the best possible plant - one that produces the greatest number of seeds for a new generation. Students will need to think through their strategy, balancing out the creation of roots, stems or leaves, and deciding when they should flower and set seed.
Play the game
SAPS Associates news – School science club let loose in the research lab
What happens when you take the members of an ordinary school science club and let them loose in a top research lab? Plant scientist Dr Anne Osterrieder, biology teacher Vicki Cottrell and science club leader Lynn Nickerson were game to find out. Over the course of the next few months, a small group of 14-15 year old students from Didcot Girls' School will be assisting Anne with her biology research. The ultimate goal is to publish a paper with Vicki as co-author and the rest of the science club named in the acknowledgements, and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for exciting discoveries. Students will be blogging during the project, so watch out for those.
Anne started the project with an open question session, so read on to find out what questions the students had for a 'real scientist' (sad disappointment for them – not all scientists work with dead bodies):
Read the team blog
In our news round-up this month, we've got three opportunities for your students to discuss topics in contemporary science.
Research News – Red tomatoes thanks to meteorite?
The dinosaurs were wiped out, but we got tasty red tomatoes instead. Seems like a fair exchange? Research on the tomato genome published in Nature (30 May 2012) established that the genome of the original tomato suddenly tripled in size about 60 to 70 million years ago. But why might this have occurred?
'Such a big genome expansion points to extremely stressful conditions,' says tomato genome co-ordinator René Klein Lankhorst, from Wageningen Univerity in the Netherlands. 'We suspect that the meteorite crash and the resulting solar eclipse had created conditions difficult for plants to survive. A distant ancestor of the tomato plant then reacted by expanding its genome considerably in order to increase its chances of survival.'
By the time that climatic conditions improved again, the tomato ancestor had developed the genetic base for fruit formation had already been developed by then, acquiring its red colour, and and certain genes which produced toxins had disappeared, says Klein Lankhorst. In this way, the tomato differentiates itself from a family member, the potato, which has no edible fruits.
Find out more
What do your students think about linking the meteorite crash that killed the dinosaurs to the tripling of a plant genome? Why should stressful conditions have this effect? And what are the potential benefits of sequencing crop genomes in this way?
Nature has made the research paper and two short articles discussing the findings available online free, via their website at Nature.com (search for 'tomato genome').
Research News – What's plants' sixth sense?
Debates over what plants can sense have been rumbling on for hundreds of years. They can sense changes in light level, detect the touch of an object or a breeze and 'smell' chemicals in the air and in the soil. But recent experiments reported in the New Scientist suggest that a mysterious new 'sense' may be present in seedlings.
The New Scientist article explains: “A team led by Monica Gagliano at the University of Western Australia in Crawley placed the seeds of chilli peppers (Capsicum annuum) into eight Petri dishes arranged in a circle around a potted sweet fennel plant (Foeniculum vulgare). Sweet fennel releases chemicals into the air and soil that slow other plants' growth. In some set-ups the fennel was enclosed in a box, blocking its chemicals from reaching the seeds. Other experiments had the box, but no fennel plant inside. In each case, the entire set-up was sealed in a soundproof box to prevent outside signals from interfering. As expected, chilli seeds exposed to the fennel germinated more slowly than when there was no fennel. The surprise came when the fennel was present but sealed away: those seeds sprouted fastest of all. Gagliano repeated the experiment with 2400 chilli seeds in 15 boxes and consistently got the same result, suggesting the seeds were responding to a signal of some sort. She believes this signal makes the chilli seeds anticipate the arrival of chemicals that slow their growth. In preparation, they undergo a growth spurt.”
But what can the signal be? Find out more on the New Scientist website
What do your students think about the way in which this experiment was set up? Do they agree that Gagliano's suggestion seems a reasonable interpretation of the data? How would they continue to investigate this problem?
The original paper is freely available online via PLoS ONE
Opportunity - GM Food debates from ‘I’m a scientist: get me out of here’
GM crops have been back in the news recently, after the recent trials of an aphid-repelling wheat variety by the scientists at Rothamsted Research. Now the people behind the popular school science outreach programme 'I'm a Scientist: Get me out of here' are organising an online "GM Food Zone". There'll be a varied panel, with experts from a wide variety of backgrounds and with differing views on the role genetic modification of plants should play in ensuring food security in the 21st century.
The Zone will open on Monday 25th June 2012, so it’s a great opportunity for your students to pose their questions on their intriguing and important topic.
Find out more and get posting here
Opportunity - BioNet: inspiring the next generation of biologists
If you’ve got students who want to be part of the future of biology, why not let them know about a new scheme for school and college students from the Society of Biology. They’ve launched BioNet, an opportunity to keep regularly up to date with the latest in biology news and research.For £5, members will receive an e-subscription to The Biologist, a quarterly e-newsletter, and quarterly articles sent to their inbox to add depth to topics they are studying.
Find out more.
The Administratort, Dan Jenkins, Elizabeth McDonald and Ginny Page
The Science and Plants for Schools team
If you're a teacher, TA or technician, and you're not already a member of the free SAPS Associates scheme for grants, CPD and more, why not join us at www.saps.org.uk/associates?