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World TB Day piques interest in fighting tuberculosis and other infectious diseases

March 26, 2014
by Rachel Griess

In one lab, high-schoolers learned the staggering speed at which bacteria spread. In another, they practiced the essential research skill of pipetting. They moved on to analyze DNA, and then learned how liquid nitrogen can be used to freeze, crush and study infected tissue.

Students practiced basic lab skills used to investigate tuberculosis.

The activities were part of World TB Day at CSU on Monday, when nearly 100 northern Colorado high-school students visited campus to get a lab-level look at world-renowned tuberculosis research.

“Not a lot of people know the gravity of TB as a global issue – let alone the research that’s being done in our own back yard,” said Carol Seemueller, a biology teacher who accompanied visiting students from Rocky Mountain High School. “CSU does an awesome job at raising awareness of the issue and getting our students involved through hands-on activities.”

Raising awareness

World TB Day is marked every year on March 24 to commemorate the date in 1882 when Nobel laureate Robert Koch presented his discovery of the infectious pathogen Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes TB. The day is meant to raise awareness about a disease that kills an estimated 1.5 million people each year.

High-school students visited the CSU Mycobacteria Research Laboratories on World TB Day 2014.CSU is an apt site: The campus is home to the world’s largest group of university researchers investigating TB. About 170 scientists on campus are working to discover new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent the infectious disease that attacks the lungs and is notable as a serious global killer.

Hands-on learning

For the second year, CSU hosted World TB Day lab visits and hands-on activities. Students visited from Rocky Mountain High School, Fort Collins High School, Fossil Ridge High School, Frontier Academy in Greeley and Greeley Central High School.

“Before today, I hadn’t learned very much about TB. But we have talked about the difference between bacterial and viral infections and how bacterial infections, like TB, are a lot harder to combat,” said Garrett Leonnig, senior at Frontier Academy. “I can relate some of the lessons I’ve learned in our biology classes to what we are learning today.”

Wearing lab coats and gloves, students learned from CSU researchers how to set up and conduct experiments used to find new ways to detect and treat TB.

Students did not enter Biosafety Level 3 labs, but got to try on the protective suits.“It was nice to talk to researchers about TB and other diseases in ways we can all understand,” said Audrey Guinn, a freshman at Rocky Mountain High School. “Sometimes science can be hard to talk about, but CSU did a good job at translating the complicated stuff.”

Students were eager to learn about equipment used in Biosafety Level 2 laboratories; they suited up for, but did not enter, a Biosafety Level 3 lab of the type used to study infectious diseases that require higher safety protocols.

“I thought the Biosafety Level 2 labs were cool. We had the chance to see where things were prepped for the Biosafety Level 3 labs and even put on the awesome masks and suits,” said Jordyn Dame, another freshman at Rocky Mountain High School. “College is a ways off, but I’ve definitely thought about studying microbiology – diseases are so interesting.”