Fourth year MIBTP students Laura Flavell and Nathaniel Davies work in the Tauber lab at the University of Leicester, a lab specialising in insect genetics. For their PIPS projects, they set up an outreach programme called LiveGene, a programme which aims to bring genetics education to life by bringing live fruit flies into GCSE and A-level classrooms. By performing real life experiments with Drosophila, students can learn about genetics principles by testing them first-hand rather than relying on textbooks.
The project is a collaboration with LEBC (Leicestershire Education Business Company), a company with links to schools across Leicestershire. With the help of LEBC, Nathaniel and Laura began the project by meeting with teachers to talk about how the aims of the project could be realised. The idea was to make sure the practicals on offer would target the right parts of the curriculum, that schools would already have the equipment necessary to perform the experiments, and that the teachers would have access to the necessary training to work with fruit flies.
These meetings led to the structure of LiveGene as it is today.
“The idea of LiveGene is that a teacher interested in working with fruit flies can contact us and join one of our training sessions. Within the space of a few hours, we show the teachers how to work with fruit flies. Our sessions cover mutant identification, sexing, stock maintenance, general handling procedures, and food preparation. At first we only had one or two teachers in Leicester attending these sessions, but now we have hosted sessions for teachers from over 22 schools across the UK, helping to set up fruit-fly practicals across the country.” – Laura Flavell
In addition to providing these free training sessions, LiveGene also provides schools with free fruit flies and starter equipment.
“Once the teachers are ready to start working with flies, we send starter packs out to schools – free of charge. The packs usually contain an assortment of wild-type and mutant flies for schools to run classes with. So far we’ve helped 12 schools in the UK get stocks of fruit flies, and have even sent flies to a school in Brunei!” - Nathaniel
An important part of LiveGene is the delivery of the lessons, so Nathaniel and Laura (and other members of the Tauber lab) have visited several schools to provide training to teachers and to help out with lessons. LiveGene has been featured in local newspapers, and the number of children who have been able to work with fruit flies thanks to LiveGene is now easily in the tens of hundreds; not a bad start for what was originally a three-month placement!