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Malaria drugs come under the microscope.

Byline: EMMA DAVISON

CHILDREN are learning how scientists are using the latest genetic advances to combat malaria.

Experts from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at York University are running workshops in schools across Yorkshire.

They have been explaining how their Artemisia Project is helping improve the supply of anti-malarial treas rtments.

The sessions give teenage pupils a unique insight into how science learned in the classroom is applied to real world problems.

Students from Holmfirth High School have been involved with the project.

They got the chance to work with a powerful fluorescence microscope used in the development of anti-malaria drugs.

The microscope is used to look at trichomes on the surface of Artemisia annua leaves. The plant is currently the sole source of the leading anti-malaria drug.

Trichomes are clusters on the glandular cells on the leaf surface that produce chemicals, including artemisinin, which is used to treat the mosquito-transmitted disease.

Following a successful workshop for Year 10 and 11 pupils, the school invited the university's team back to host a further session.

Pupil Laura Nunez-Mulder, 16, said: "It was really interesting to see how the things we learned applied in real life, especially for such an important project.

"The best bit was using the really expensive microscope, as we could see things we'd never be able to see with our own equipment."

The workshops involve a mixture of presentation, discussion and hands-on activities.

Pupils learn about the problem of the potentially fatal tropical disease and how CNAP is improving supplies of an anti-malarial drug from the medicinal herb, using the latest genetic and analytical technologies.

For most students the highlight of the workshop is examining plants using the fluorescence microscope, which is owned by the Royal Microscopical Society.

The high cost of this advanced technology means it is normally unavailable in schools.

It gives pupils an insight into the world of science, as scientists on the CNAP Artemesia Project use a similar microscope to look at trichome density. More trichomes mean more artemisinin and this is one of the techniques scientists use to select plants for breeding high-yielding varieties from.

However, the tiny trichomes are almost impossible to spot under an ordinary light microscope.

The fluorescent microscope allows pupils to easily see the tiny trichomes on the surface of the plants and assess their density.

This is because the trichomes glow when lit with fluorescent light of a particular wave length, producing a strong contrast between the dark background and the brightly glowing plant glands.

Rachel George, a science teacher at the school, said: "It was a fantastic opportunity for our pupils to experience the applications of biology in the real world.

"The pupils were thrilled to use equipment which they could normally only experience at university level."

The CNAP workshop will be held at a number of other schools and colleges across Yorkshire this month.

CAPTION(S):

* APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE: Nicola Smith from York University shows the specialised microscope to, from left: Jack Longton, Edward Saxton, Georgina Girdwood and Maggie Chen (PC040311Bschool)
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Date:Mar 15, 2011
Words:507
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