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Microbiology expert warns Horrible Science magazine may jeopardise kids’ health

05 May 2005

Microbiology expert warns Horrible Science magazine may jeopardise kids’ health

Dr Anthony Hilton, a microbiology expert from Aston University and General Secretary of the Society of Applied Microbiology, is blasting children’s magazine Horrible Science for encouraging youngsters to grow potentially harmful bacteria in the home.

The popular magazine, which aims to promote young children’s interest in science by focusing on the more sinister and gory parts of the subject, is giving away a free Petri dish in the most recent edition and encourages readers to grow your own manky microbes by swabbing areas around the home (including a lavatory handle) with a cotton bud and spreading the germs on to the plate. After a couple of days you should see creepy colonies of microbes growing on the jelly the magazine states.

Potentially children could isolate a number of harmful bacteria which could put their health in jeopardy, explains Dr Hilton. While I welcome any initiative to enthuse young people about microbiology the publication should have consulted more widely to ensure that experiments that they are encouraging children to do are safe and do not pose any threat to their health.

By following the instructions in the magazine, particularly picking up bacteria around the toilet, a number of different hazardous faecal micro-organisms could grow including Salmonella, E coli 0157 and Campylobacter. These types of bacteria are known as gastrointestinal and could lead to severe cases of nausea, sickness and diarrhoea and, in extreme cases, death. When such experiments are conducted in the Aston University microbiology lab we have to undergo strict risk assessments to ensure the students safety and have special disposal methods.

This is something that will be of concern to many parents who buy the popular and informative magazine for their children. Dr Hilton offers the following advice:

Any parents of children that have already conducted the experiment should take the Petri dish and seal it by taping it up around the outside using sticky tape. They should then dispose of it in the dustbin and thoroughly wash their hands.

If children are yet to conduct the experiment but are still keen to grow some bugs a safe alternative is to use bakers yeast mixed with two egg cups full of warm water and one tea spoon of sugar. This should be left to sit for 20 minutes and then spread onto the agar plate. This would give the kids some interesting, but non-hazardous colonies to look at.�

Written by Babs Coombes. For further information or to interview Dr Hilton, please contact me on 0121 204 4549 or email: b.a.l.coombes@aston.ac.uk

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