Aspiring College biology pupils teamed with local schools for a day of hands-on bioscience research as we played host to University College London’s (UCL) Biology Conference.

Led by University College London’s Professor of Developmental Neurobiology, Stephen Price, our Year 10 and 12 pupils were joined by friends from Thomas Mills High School and Hartismere School for an insightful event which included research analysis, practical experiments, lab workshops and an introductory taster lecture.

The day began with a deep-dive into the plastic-degrading enzyme research by Dr Federica Bertocchini. Driven by the continued increase of plastic pollution on our planet, Dr Bertocchini was determined to find a more environmentally conscious way of getting rid of non-recyclable plastics without the use of incinerators or machinery.

Using plastic degradation by biological means was a relatively new way to approach the plastic waste problem, but Dr Bertocchini discovered that the saliva in the larve of wax worms (lepidopteran Galleria mellonella), contained enzymatic properties capable of breaking down plastic.

Using Dr Bertocchini’s discovery as a case study, the pupils brainstormed how they would test this methodology and demonstrated how they would track results.

Further elements of the conference programme included, in Lab 1, pupils working on insect practical, investigating the behaviours of Woodlice depending on habitat chamber.

Following the hypothesis that ‘Woodlice have a preference to dark, damp areas’, the pupils placed the Woodlice into a variety of different environmental chambers and analysed their responses and changes in behaviour.

In Lab 2, pupils were introduced to the principles of digestion and enzyme immobilisation with a practical exercise of separating and extracting the lactose from milk. It is estimated that 75% of the world’s population are intolerant to lactose in adulthood, so in this activity pupils were challenged to immobilise the lactose in calcium alginate beads, held within a small column over which the milk was passed.

Lab 3 saw the ‘moss safari’ project where pupils searched for ‘The Big Five’ (Moss Mites, Rotifer, Nematode, Tardigrade and Gastrotrich) multicellular animals under the microscope at low magnifications x40 to x100.

Professor Stephen Price concluded the conference with an inspirational biosciences masterclass in our Theatre, offering pupils an introductory taster lecture on studying biology at UCL.

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