Showing off biology research at the Nice Science Festival

My lab (Rob Arkowitz) recently participated in the annual science festival on the 13thand 14thof October in Nice, France. There were three of us from the Arkowitz lab who participated: myself, Miguel Basante, a PhD student; and Stephanie Bogliolo, the lab technician. The festival was held in the Promenade du Paillon park in the city center. For the festival, the Institut Biologie Valrose (iBV) highlighted classic model organisms and the application of them to study biology. The models that were being displayed were Drosophila, C. elegans, Arabidopsis, zebra fish, mice, human cells and my personal favorite, yeast.

Each lab participating was encouraged to bring samples and games to introduce to children and adults their organism and its application in research. Our lab studies polarized growth in the pathogenic yeast Candida albicans. However, for the science festival we decided to focus on Saccharomyces cerevisiae because it is the classic yeast model and it is safe to bring samples for people to see.

We developed two games to teach visitors the various organelles and components of theS. cerevisiaecell. Our first game was for young children; they were able to recreate a yeast cell using modelling clay for the different organelles. The second game was similar to children’s game “pinthe tail on the donkey.” Players were blind folded and had to reconstruct the yeast cell by positioning the components on a magnetic board. We had lots of players for both games and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun learning about yeast organelle organization.

We also brought some petri plates with yeast colonies for people to see and to try streaking on fresh agarose plates. This was very exciting for people to see the yeast that is commonly used to make bread, beer and wine in a scientific context to study questions that can give excellent insight into cell biology.

The most exciting part of our demonstration was the microscope. We brought a travelling fluorescent microscope in order for people to observe live yeast cells under magnification. We also demonstrated the process to certain parts of the cell fluorescent by genetic modification.  Many people were impressed to see green fluorescence in the yeast.

While I have studied basic conversational French, my ability to communicate scientifically in the language is limited. This was the most challenging part of this experience. Luckily for me, visitors were often very patient and even excited that I was making an effort to explain my research to them in French.

It was a great experience, and I am already planning on participating in next year’s event. We have plans to 3D print a yeast cell with removable organelles in order to better demonstrate a yeast cell.