Issue date: 23 October 2003

ISSUE DATE: 22/10/03

Glowing Bacteria exhibit shows how scientists test effectiveness of antibiotics – a collaboration between At-Bristol and UWE funded by The Wellcome Trust

UWE biomedical scientists have been working with staff at science attraction At-Bristol on the latest exhibit ‘Glowing Bacteria Lighting up Medical Research’ that will be launched during the October half term.

The ‘Glowing Bacteria’ exhibit has been designed by At-Bristol using the expertise and knowledge of UWE scientists. This Wellcome Trust funded project also supports the post of biomedical student Robin Thorn recently graduated from UWE’s Faculty of Applied Sciences. Robin will be based in At-Bristol for four and a half months of this six month project which aims to show how bioluminescent bacteria can be used as a reporter system for the effectiveness of antibiotics in medicine.

Dr Penny Fidler (Exhibition project manager) from At-Bristol said. “We’re delighted to be collaborating with UWE to create such an exciting new exhibit. It’s one of the first examples in the world of bioluminescence presented in such an exciting hands-on way. We’re also privileged that experts from UWE will be regularly taking part in ‘meet the experts’ so our visitors can explore the subject further.”

Robin Thorn, who was helped by Microbiology Technical staff at UWE, explains the challenges they faced in creating, Glowing Bacteria, “We needed to build a robust exhibit capable of withstanding constant use over a period of time. Also we needed to be sure that the exhibit was easy to maintain so that bacteria could be nourished and able to glow when we introduced oxygen into the fermenter tubes.

‘Glowing bacteria’ is divided into two parts. Firstly we show a tank filled with flashlight fish, a species of fish so named because naturally occurring bacteria glows in the fishes’ light organ or photophore. The second part of the exhibit shows how bacteria can be made to glow. Two fermenter tubes sit side by side. One of the tubes has a constant supply of oxygen which feeds the bacteria causing the bacteria to glow constantly. The bacteria in a second fermenter tube are starved of oxygen and will not glow until someone presses a button giving an injection of air. The speed at which the chemical reaction to air injection to the bacteria is quite amazing”

At-Bristol will be holding ‘Meet the Expert Sessions’ during half term starting on Wednesday 29 October, when visitors can quiz Robin and UWE’s Dr Vyv Salisbury who led the project bid.

Vyv Salisbury said, “We hope this will help the public understand our research. We use the DNA from naturally occurring bioluminescent bacteria and transfer it to disease causing bacteria, to make them glow. The genetically modified bacteria can then be used as reporters to test the effectiveness of antibiotics. If the antibiotic kills the bacteria then they stop glowing. This exhibit shows one of the many useful applications of genetic modification.”


Editor’s notes

The Wellcome Trust People Awards provide fast track funding – up to £30,000 – for activities that:

 Communicate biomedical science to the public
 Improve understanding of the powers and limitations of science
 Stimulate thought and debate about the wider social impact

The Wellcome Trust is an independent research-funding charity, established under the will of Sir Henry Wellcome in 1936. It is funded from a private endowment which is managed with long-term stability and growth in mind. The Trust's mission is to foster and promote research with the aim of improving human and animal health.

Jpeg images are available

The Glowing Bacteria team l to r top row Maggie Pownell, Vyv Salisbury, Penny Fidler, Julian Pilkington l to r bottom row Gillian Smith, Karen Crocker, Robin Thorn, Austin Stevens

At-Bristol logo in agar plates showing glowing bacteria left Robin Thorn UWE right Julian Pilkington At-Bristol.

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