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Rationale for Public Engagement of Drosophila researchers
The rationale for our outreach activities, as well as our strategies and the ways in which we engage are explained in our recent article: “How to develop objective-driven comprehensive science outreach initiatives aiming at multiple audiences” (Patel, S., Prokop, A., 2015, bioRxiv 10.1101/023838). To name a few arguments:
- Promoting awareness of the continued importance of Drosophila and other genetic invertebrate model organisms will have long-term impact on science policies and help sustain funding for fly research.
- For over 100 years fruit flies have been and continue to be at the forefront of research into fundamental biology including gene regulation and genome organisation, cell division, signalling pathways, body and tissue development, nervous system function, principles of behaviour, as well as disease mechanisms in humans.
- Invertebrate model organisms are most effective tools to unravel the functions of novel genes and their biological and regulatory contexts. Since genes and their functions are mostly well conserved, knowledge gained in flies tends to apply to higher organisms including humans. Therefore, the rapid discovery of new disease-linked human genes cries out for their use.
- Powerful genetics possible in invertebrate models is an ideal means to study biological or disease processes at the cellular or organism level and forms an ideal experimental link between research into molecular mechanisms and modern “omics” approaches.
- Arguments that work with members of the public tend to similarly appeal to grant panels! Scientific outreach requires extracting the essentials of one’s science, thus leading to new ideas and thoughts and developing powerful arguments. It is a win-win activity that pays off in two directions.
- To engage on this path, the community of Drosophila researchers centred round the Manchester Fly Facility has developed outreach activities that have gained substantial momentum and reach our objectives in entertaining and illuminating ways both in schools and on science fairs.
- Our achievements of the various activities we engage in were explained on the outreach workshop of the 56th American Drosophila Conference (LINK to slides). It is now pivotal to capitalise on these achievements and consequently develop our expertises and strategies to the next step with a view to reaching measurable impact.
- Key objectives are…
- to share and explain our experiences and resources to help other Drosophila researchers worldwide to engage in similar activities.
- to generate freely available Drosophila-related resources and strategies to be used on exhibitions or in schools. School resources will consider class room realities and teachers’ needs, and address teaching curricula in inspiring, conceptually clear and effective ways – thus conveying the power of simple model organisms to young audiences.
The members of the fly facility have developed a diverse suite of hands on, interactive activities that both reflect our areas of research and provide fundamental insights into how the fly can be used to understand biological processes and, ultimately, cure diseases. Using these modular activities we have gathered substantial outreach experience on science fairs and in schools which allow us to effectively educate, fascinate and inform children and adults alike about the use of Drosophila in research, and the fundamental impact this little organism has on our understanding of the genes that can cause diseases in all animals. Our school resources are summarised in this blog post, our current exhibition/programme for science fairs includes:
(1) Explain the roots: understanding why flies have become such a powerful model organism and how they are being used
(2) Understanding behaviour (fly cinema): see movies of inebriated flies, see them fight, see them learn, see their motivation! – appreciate the fundamental aspects of our own behaviours.
(3) Classical marker mutations (fly surgery): diagnose the fly patient and tell us what’s wrong – see real flies under the microscope & see how genetics is done using marker mutations and Punnett squares.
(4) Modern genetic markers (the green lantern): see fluorescent flies with gleaming organs under the microscope – see how malformation can be spotted & studied at a wink of the eye.
(5) Optogenetics (fly laser quest): flash blue light at maggots and change their behaviours – learn how clever genetic tools are used to study brain function.
(6) Seizures and Paralysis (shake some flies unconscious or keep them in a headlock): have some hands-on experience to learn about epilepsy research using the fly, or use genetics to switch off the nervous system and learn about synapse function.
(7) Testing motor skills (fly climbing wall): plot your own experimental graphs and statistically compare young flies and their grandparents performing at the climbing wall – learn how to study the genetics of aging, neurodegeneration or muscular dystrophies. We have developed materials and ideas from stickers to T shirts, from posters to experimental layouts, all purpose tailored for outreach activities on public road shows or in schools. We are happy to share, just contact us.
(8) Exploring the fly brain: learn about the different fly brain centres from a set of trump cards and aim at your chosen area with a nerf gun. This activity shows how brains are divided into areas of specialisation.
- Celebration of Philanthropy Showcase, University of Manchester, 6 April 2017
- Body Experience, Manchester Museum, 18 March 2017
- National Student Conference, University Place, Manchester, 11 Feb 2017
- Behind the scenes of Manchester, Faculty of Life Science, 27 July 2016
- Brain Box, European City of Science event on Manchester Day, Manchester Town Hall, 19 June 2016
- Body Experience, Manchester Museum, 19 March 2016
- Community Open Day, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, 9 May, 2015
- Manchester Science Festival, Manchester Museum, 25 Oct 2014
- Community Open Day, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, 28 June 2014
- Wellcome Trust Brain Collection exhibition, MOSI, 2 Nov 2013
- Community Open Day, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, 6 July 2013
- Body Experience, Manchester Museum, 16 March 2013
- Manchester Science Festival, Manchester Museum, 27 Oct 2012
- Community Open Day, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, 30 June 2012
- Body Experience, Manchester Museum, 17 March 2012
- Manchester Science Festival, Manchester Museum, 29 Oct 2011
- Community Open Day, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, 4 July 2011
Reports about our events