A report by a SaS Volunteer

Dhiviya Vedagiri, PhD Scholar, Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad

Being an AcSIR registered PhD student, I had to accomplish a task named CSIR-800 and earn credits which is mandatory for completing the PhD program. CSIR-800 is a mini project to be conducted by all scholars either individually or in groups, based on two main aspects: (1) to enhance income and (2) to improve quality of life. When I decided to focus on the second aspect of CSIR-800, Dr Somdatta Karak, Science communications and outreach officer of CCMB was actively involved in various activities related to bringing about importance of doing and enjoying science in school children. Somdatta invited school students of grade 9 from various schools in Hyderabad for a 3-day workshop named ‘Superheroes against Superbugs (SaS)’ to create awareness about usage of antibiotics. Deviprasad, Mahesh and I (AcSIR PhD scholars) grouped together to conduct this workshop with activity materials prepared by Somdatta and Ponnari. Being born and brought up in Chennai, I conducted one day workshop in St. Peter’s Matriculation Higher Secondary School, St Thomas Mount, Chennai, on August 17, 2019.

What amused me was the workshop material prepared by Somdatta and Ponnari, with each and every activity emphasising an important concept or fact in the minds of school children. To highlight a few fun filled activities, at the same time focussing on the theme, (1) when antibiotics work and on what they act– cooked channa dal (bacteria) and toor dal (virus), when poked by toothpick (antibiotics), it pricked channa dal (bacteria) but not toor dal (viruses). The concept is viruses have a strong outer protein coat which does not allow antibiotics to enter (hence not pricked by toothpick), while bacteria has an outer membrane which will allow antibiotics to enter (pricked nicely by toothpick) and kill the bacteria. Selling point is ANTIBIOTICS KILL BACTERIA AND NOT VIRUSES, (2) What are superbugs – cooked channa dal (bacteria) and raw channa dal (antibiotic resistant bacteria or Superbugs), when poked by toothpick (antibiotics), it pricked only cooked channa dal (bacteria) and not raw channa dal (superbugs), meaning that ANTIBIOTICS DO NOT KILL SUPERBUGS, as the superbugs change their outer membrane into harder shell, thereby not allowing antibiotics to enter such bacteria, (3) how are superbugs created – multiple rounds of various ratios of cooked and raw channa dal (bacteria and antibiotic resistant bacteria respectively) when picked by toothpick (antibiotics), eliminated cooked channa dal (normal bacteria) and leaving behind only raw channa dal (superbugs). The conveying point is when doctor prescribes antibiotics after proper diagnosis, the patient must complete the antibiotic course. IF THE ANTIBIOTIC COURSE IS NOT COMPLETED, IT LEADS TO GENERATION OF SUPERBUGS WHICH CANNOT BE KILLED BY ANTIBIOTICS. There are many such activities in the workshop material which is now available at (attach link). Activity based concept learning is one of the best ways to bring awareness about serious social related issues. At the end of each day, few homework sheets, unlike the regular school homework, that involved the attention of parents for their children to fill up these work sheets were distributed. In a way this workshop aimed to initiate a chain reaction to bring about awareness on antibiotics and creation of superbugs by misuse of these miracle drugs even without our knowledge.

Students were encouraged to prepare posters on what they learnt and as a means to spread this awareness among other students at their school. I strongly believe in activity-based learning as they leave an unforgettable impact in them and to follow them. This school in Chennai is government aided and included moderately incomed family children, where such activities will have huge positive impact in their learning. Mr Gangadharan and Ms Nivya, teachers from the school helped me in assisting and conducting this workshop. Mr Gangadharan’s wife (working as teacher in private aided school), after hearing about this workshop conducted in his school, was interested to have the same workshop conducted in her school. As it is well thought, prepared workshop material, I wish the last day or an hour at the end of the workshop if parents along with their children, shall be oriented together about the use and misuse of antibiotics, so that awareness can be carried forward to their neighbours and their working places.  It really made me feel happy and on cloud nine when such initiatives are being appreciated, practised and promoted in our society (chain reaction initiated).