How do you teach someone about microorganisms without a microscope?

Lab Note #10
Apr 05, 2015

There are many communities in South Africa that are less fortunate, especially in regards to access to education.

Imagine learning without access to libraries, or even textbooks.

Imagine learning without access to the internet, or even electricity.

Photo credit: Sydelle Willow Smith,

As a naive American, my perception of South Africa's education system is limited to a few youtube videos. Below is a short video from 2012 that presents some grim statistics about schools in South Africa.

Regardless of how biased this video is, if the stats are correct, it suggests there is a need for a creative, nonmaterialistic, and interactive education programs in rural communities.

Citizen science programs are tools for engaging the public in scientific research. They provide unique opportunities for the public to learn. We hope to engage teachers and students from communities near the native forests of South Africa with a citizen science program.

What is citizen science? <-click here to see my previous lab note

"Citizen science is about the citizen being the scientist, not just helping the scientist collect data". We want to empower citizens with the idea that they themselves could figure out which microorganism causes sickness in a specific plant, not just teach them about what could cause it. Help us enable rural communities, schools, and students to become scientists.

Apparently there are substantial differences in the quality of educations between wealthy and impoverished communities, even within the university system. By focusing on providing opportunities to be citizen scientist in disadvantaged and impoverished communities and school systems, hopefully we can help close the gap.

Photo credit: Sydelle Willow Smith,

How do you teach someone about microorganisms without a microscope?

When I met Prof Mike Wingfield at the IUFRO conference in Salt Lake City, he encouraged me to reach out to another researcher from FABI at the conference, Prof. Jolanda Roux. It was during my discussion with her that the idea of a citizen science program became a real option. She suggested providing citizens with culture plates for isolating microbes. That way the public could learn the process of isolating microbes from infected plants. Culturing microorganisms can be a way to teach someone about microorganisms without needing a microscope. Culture plates and the growth media are part of the proposed budget we are raising money for.

1) Collect plant samples (symptomatic or asymptomatic)

2) Place tissue (whether it looks infected or not) into growth media in a petri plate. Individual microbes are not visible to the naked eye, but a colony of microbes, or a network of many cells, can be.

3) Isolate target microorganism that grew out of infected tissue.

4) Maintain pure culture of the microorganism that grew out of the infected plant tissue.

Photo credit: Sydelle Willow Smith,

Thank you for tuning in.

Please wait...