School-age scientists contribute to
tropical disease research
IRIS students stand to become world experts through their participation in a research project launched in partnership with Wellcome Genome Campus in March. As part of the Genomic Decoders project, students from 60 UK schools are collaborating with scientists and being trained to annotate the genome of the parasitic human whipworm (Trichuris trichiura). The worm causes Trichuriasis, a neglected tropical disease that affected over 1.5 billion people in 2016. Students will contribute to the first annotation of its genome at the highest resolution with the ultimate focus on new treatments and vaccines.
Young people are engaged in this work – for the first time they can see that they are able to make a contribution to science, and that they are doing something where the answer isn’t at the back of the textbook. For teachers too, it reinvigorates them. Since its launch, more than 450 schools registered to take part. The clear message this sends is that teachers are looking for a chance to go beyond the exam requirements, to enjoy challenging themselves and the students in authentic science.
After leaving research to become a teacher I sometimes hanker after those moments of discovery at the cutting edge, IRIS has allowed me to rediscover those moments alongside young people.
Dr Julian Rayner, Director, Communicating Science at the Wellcome Genome Campus says, “These genes are real genes; no one has looked at these genes before them: they will be the world experts.
Nick Harris, a biology teacher at Tapton School, Sheffield, says:
“After leaving research to become a teacher I sometimes hanker after those moments of discovery at the cutting edge, IRIS has allowed me to rediscover those moments alongside young people.
Judith Wardlaw, a recently retired teacher at Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester, says,
“By participating with IRIS, teachers and students can gain confidence, potentially develop original ideas, and be part of the wider scientific community.”
There are so many areas where young people can contribute. Take the annotation of genomes. If we are to sequence the wealth of human life there’s certainly going to be more than enough data and activity to go around. The limiting factor for teachers is their time, but we have found that teachers are more positive about the profession when they have a chance to rekindle the passion they have for their subject.”