Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Dangers in a Dish

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Dangers in a Dish

Article excerpt

"Okay, students, today's assignment is to survey our school for microorganisms. Take these nutrient agar petri plates and gather samples in the restroom stalls, cafeteria tables, corridor floors, and gym locker room. We will culture the plates in an incubator, fix samples on slides, and view them under a microscope."

Unfortunately, such assignments actually happen and are often suggested in books and science activity kits--despite being blatantly unsafe. Pathogenic microbes such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and streptococcus bacterium are found in most school environments, and culturing bacteria or fungi (mold) in nutrient-rich environments like agar plates can concentrate them to dangerous levels.

To address this unacceptable activity in schools, the NSTA's Science Safety Advisory Board has posted two important documents online (see "On the web").

Working with microbes

One of the documents, "Tips for the Safer Handling of Microorganisms in the School Science Laboratory," includes the following best practices for working with microbes:

* Only culture microorganisms that are obtained from a known source. Treat all microorganisms as potential pathogens.

* Use personal protective equipment.

* Wash your hands.

* Disinfect work areas before and after use.

* Sterilize equipment.

* Never pipette by mouth.

* Do not eat or drink in the laboratory.

* Label everything clearly.

* Autoclave or disinfect all waste material.

* Clean up spills with care.

The second document, "Safety Acknowledgment Form for Working With Microorganisms," states: "The laboratory can be a hazardous place. It is therefore critical and an expectation that students adhere to the following specific protocols and standards to help make it a safer place to work and learn." It then lists 21 best professional practices in working with microorganisms. …

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