Summer Science Exhibit - Emerging infections in animals and humans

25 June 2010

Two of the James Martin School’s member Institutes are to collaborate on running an exhibit at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, which begins on Saturday 26 June in London.

The Institute for Emerging Infections and the Institute for Biodiversity are leading a team of twenty five staff from across the University to run an exhibit on the subject of emerging infections, specifically on the connection between infectious disease in wild animals and humans. Two aspects are covered: infection as a conservation threat for endangered species and wild animals as a reservoir of emerging infections of humans.

“The transformation of wildlife viruses into emerging infections in humans depends on a combination of evolutionary and ecological processes. Tracing viruses from their origins gives us the opportunity to understand how they can successfully adapt to human hosts,” says Professor Angela McLean, Co-Director of the Institute for Emerging Infections.

The stand will contain four activities that together convey three key messages:

  1. Wild animals are commonly infected with viruses, some of which infect humans.
  2. Viruses are particularly adept at adapting to their environment.
  3. We can use science to “fight back” in a variety of different ways.

The four activities that will be part of the exhibit are:

  1. A 3 minute video about Ethiopian wolves, rabies as a severe threat to their conservation and the control of rabies through vaccination of both wolves and local working dogs.
  2. A swine-flu genetics mastermind game. Played in a large format on a magnetic white-board this activity illustrates the diverse evolutionary histories of the different genes in H1N1 influenza in a well-known children’s logic game.
  3. A series of tuneable computer games on the control of infectious disease. These games are a part of a web-site in which players can design their own, increasingly sophisticated, simulations of the spread and control of infection.
  4. A mock wet-lab in which DNA is extracted, sequenced and used to design a treatment regimen. Participants will pick a “patient” sample to analyse (really coloured vegetable extract), extract DNA from the sample, pipette it into laboratory plastics, feed those into a pcr block, and receive back sequence data specific to the sample they chose. They will then choose a suitable drug treatment regimen for their patient based on the drug resistance profile in the “sample”.

The event is being supported in part by a special award of funding from the James Martin 21st Century School’s Collaboration Fund, which encourages members of the School to work together on research activities that have particular high impact potential.

The exhibit is one of three stands organised by Oxford University researchers, and can be seen at The Royal Festival Halls in London from June 25th until July 4th and will also be open for the Royal Society’s Convocation on June 23rd. The Summer Science Exhibition is expected to attract over 10,000 visitors.

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