Antibiotic use in farming (Countryfile)

Concerns about antibiotic usage in agriculture includes the potential spread of resistant bacteria from  livestock to humans

Concerns about antibiotic usage in agriculture include the potential spread of resistant bacteria from livestock to humans

Broadcaster: BBC1

Year: 2014

Genre: Factual, News magazine

In this clip (12.5 mins) from Countryfile, the BBC’s weekly rural and environmental interests show, the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry is discussed. Unsurprisingly, given the original Sunday tea-time transmission slot (7pm on 7th September), the package does not go into any great details regarding the science of antibiotic resistance. Nevetheless it does nicely set the scene for a discussion of the uses of antibiotic past and present, in the UK and overseas. The potential consequences for human and animal health are raised. I could see this being used in a variety of context with microbiologists, agriculture students or vets.

Can you smell fear?

This is a useful teaching tool, precisely because it demonstrates a poorly designed experiment

This is a useful teaching tool, precisely because it demonstrates a poorly designed experiment

Broadcaster: Challenge

Year: 2014

Genre: Popular Science, Edutainment

The maverick series Brainiac: Science abuse originally ran on Sky One between 2003 and 2008. This clip (2.5 mins) within Box of Broadcasts is taken from a 2014 repeat shown on Challenge.

Not famed for the rigour of their research methodology, it might seem an odd choice to use a clip from this series for University-level teaching. It is in fact the poor design of the chosen experiment that proves useful (see below).

In the clip, the Brainiacs are investigating the question “Can you Smell Fear?” To do so they get an unfortunate female team member to sniff the armpits of three men – one has been relaxing, one has been running and the third (alleged to have a fear of heights) has been on a high crane platform.

Educational use of this clip: I have used this clip in a first year module looking at experimental design. The students are told before watching the video to keep an eye out for features of the experiment that have been conducted well and those that are less than ideal. This then leads into reflection on how they might investigate the same question (can you smell fear?) in a better way. Finally we talk through the approach that was used in a paper examining the same issue, from the journal PLoS ONE, published in 2009. This exercise has been written up in the Journal of Biological Education.

Useful links:

The Cell

The three part series is an excellent introduction to our developing understanding of cell biology

The three part series is an excellent introduction to our developing understanding of cell biology

Broadcaster: BBC
Year: 2009
Genre: Documentary

Series of three hour-long documentaries presented by geneticist Adam Rutherford.

1. The Hidden Kingdom

The first episode starts with the revelations brought by early microscopy. Specifically, the observation of minute organisms by Antonia van Leeuwenhoek. It moves on to discuss the work of Robert Hooke in confirming the existence of microbes, and broadening interest into analysis of other cells. Robert Brown observed and named the nucleus within a cell (and also described the phenomenon we now call “Brownian motion”. Theodor Schwann and Matthias Schleiden made vital observations about the importance of cells as the building blocks of both animals and plants (though they were not alone in getting distracted by prevailing notions of spontaneous generation). Louis Pasteur’s invention of the swan neck flask was ultimately crucial in ruling out this theory. The programme moves on to Robert Remak’s observation of cell division, for which the data – and the credit – was stolen by his “friend” Rudolf Virchow.

2. The Chemistry of Life

In episode two, Rutherford’s attention moves to the experiments which established that DNA is the molecule of inheritance. This is my favourite episode in the series. It sweeps across from the original identification of DNA by Friedrich Miescher in 1868, through the work of Theodore Boveri in visualising chromosomes, and onto Thomas Hunt Morgan’s experiments with Drosophila melanogaster looking at patterns of inheritance and the start of mapping genes within those chromosomes. It continues onto the more familiar molecular biology of Griffith & Avery, Wilkins & Franklin and Watson & Crick. It finishes with a certain “yuk” factor as Walter Gehring demonstrates mutant Drosophila covered with eyes as the result of homeobox gene mutations.

3. The Spark of Life

In the final episode, Rutherford moves to thinking about synthetic biology (a topic he returns to in the Horizon episode Playing God). One of the first developments in this regards involved adapting bacteria to make biodiesel. He puts these developments in the context of wider evolutionary theory, that all life sprung from one single organism.

Example usage: For several years I have used The Chemistry of Life with first year students. In a double-lecture slot (the episode is an hour long) I have shown the programme in its entirety, providing this A4 sheet to help students with their note-taking. In the remaining time we’ve reviewed some of the key curriculum-relevant content, particular reiterating the experiments by Griffiths and Avery.

The “modular” coverage of key discoveries lends itself to the overall programme being divided into shorter clips for specific usage. Since the links above go in effect to existing clips (albeit the full episode), to make sub-clips you would need to follow the link to the “full programme”.

As an Open University co-production, it was previously necessary to buy the rights to use of this material, however it is now included under the terms of the Educational Recording Agency license.