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SAW and the Amazing Ants go to Latitude Festival!

17/07/2017   Emma

The SAW Trust paired up with University of East Anglia researchers from Professor Matt Hutchings group to create an exciting interactive stand for children at Latitude festival to learn about microorganisms, different places they can be found, and why they are important for us. Latitude music festival started out in 2006 with around 6000 attendees and has since grown to attract almost 40000 people. One of the key components facilitating the festival’s success has been the diversity of avenues on offer to enjoy. On top of great music guests are able to sample a diverse range of comedy, theatre, dance, film and literature. The festival therefore attracts a wide array of people and is very family friendly, with lots of activities families can enjoy together. The festival puts a lot of effort into providing a fun, educational and creative kids zone well suited to the outreach style of SAW.

Latitude Sheep

Iconic Latitude sheep

The 2017 SAW stand aimed to take the children through a journey of discovery ending hands on creative activities relating to the science. The stall had multiple levels of engagement with the children and eye-catching visual appeal which inspired initial investigation to find out more. Led by the UEA scientists, children were asked to think about micro-organisms, what they are, and where they might live. Some small soft toy versions of several micro-organisms including ones that infect us such as the common cold and MRSA and some that are beneficial to us like penicillin and bifidobacteria were used to bring these tiny organisms to life.

After learning that many interesting micro-organisms live in the soil the children were presented with four different soil samples taken from different parts of the festival site. They were asked how many micro-organisms they thought were contained in one

Science activities

Science activities

teaspoon of soil and never guessed as many as 100 billion could be found there! They were also surprised to learn that many of these bacteria make antibiotics, such as penicillin that we use as medicine to kill bad bacteria.

Next they had the chance to plate out onto agar jelly a soil sample from their chosen part of the Latitude site to see if they could find a bacteria producing an antibiotic compound. They saw example plates of antibiotic-producing bacteria found on the exoskeleton of leafcutter ants. In the places where the bacteria were growing, clear zones around them on the agar could be seen where other bacteria on the plates were unable to grow.

The children finally got to meet the leafcutter ant colony that had travelled to the festival. They could see the fungal nest that the ants worked so hard to keep alive as their only food source and home. It was a common preconception

Leafcutter ant colony

Leafcutter ant colony

that the ants bring leaves and other plant material back to the nest to feed the ant colony, however, they feed the leaves to the fungal nest and the ants eat the fungus, therefore making them ancient farmers! The children were told that to ensure the plant material isn’t infected with anything that could kill their fungus garden the ants have bacteria growing on them that produce which they rub on the leaf pieces before taking them back to their fungal nest.

The take home message was that we require new antibiotics and that by observing systems in nature we find micro-organisms growing in places that haven’t been previously explored which may lead us to new sources of antibiotics.

Finally, the children got to be ants crawling in a ball pit wearing special gloves to search and catch 10 balls with ants attached, representing mining for new antibiotic compounds.

Science activities
Lara leading the art activities

Lara leading the art activities

After exploring the science, children got crafty making their very own inventive ant masks to take away. The art activities were run by artists Lara Nicole and Ezra Hall and Lara also designed many of the wonderful ant models that decorated the stand. It was without doubt that the children who visited the UEA-SAW Amazing Ants stand had a fantastic experience and took away new information and questions about the world.

Big thanks to all those involved in organising and running the stand: Dr Jenni Rant, Tom Mclean & Emma Mckechnie-Welsh, Daisy Rant (The SAW Trust), Professor Matt Hutchings, Dr Nicolle Som and PhD students Sarah Worsley, Rebecca Devine & Jake Newitt (UEA, Norwich), Eleni Vikeli (PhD student, JIC, Norwich) and artists Lara Nicole & Ezra Hall.

Mining for ants in the ball pit

Mining for ants in the ball pit

Making ant masks

Making ant masks