StomaToys – learning Plant defence through play

The StomaToy project has developed a set of activities that combine plant science, music and drawings to communicate concepts of plant stomatal biology through play. The project is led by Dr Rucha Karnik’s lab within the Plant Science Group at the University of Glasgow, with cross-disciplinary collaborations and engaged students as well as members of public for this project. The activities include the interactive StomaToy, an activity book, a ‘Make your own paper StomaToy’ and a video.

Indeed, plants are an indispensable part of human lives and plant science, at the forefront of biological research, endeavors to resolve future global food security through gain of fundamental knowledge. Hence, demonstrating the importance of plant science research to everyday life is a vital element of our research.

To give children a taste of being a plant scientist, the StomaToy Activity book includes a pathogen infection experiment with images of infected/healthy Arabidopsis plants and educates about plant biology and disease as well as stomata as the guardians of the plants through coloring activities. The paper StomaToy Cube combines coloring, cutting out and assembly of your own leaf cross-section providing opportunity for younger children to learn about plants, leaf organisation and stomata. In the StomaToy booklet and the leaf cube, plant science is conveyed through drawings by Dr Mathis Riehle. For the StomaToy project Mathis has interpreted and represented plant science as drawings that are attractive to children and adults alike. The StomaToy video, shows how plants and stomatal pores on leaves are important to us. The video is aimed at all age groups and has indeed been prepared and edited by a member of the public, Flora Leask, who has worked on this together with the Karnik Lab and engaged with with stomatal biologist Prof Mike Blatt.

Often, we do not see plant science as relevant to modern life. Yet, there are many parallels that can be drawn between plants and humans; for e.g. like humans, plants also have a complex immune system for pathogen defense. When we put dirty hands into our mouth, it can cause infection; similarly, the entry of pathogen through stomatal pores on leaves enables infection in plants! To this end, the interactive StomaToy represents a leaf section and conveys the concepts of light-activated stomatal opening, pathogen entry and cellular immune signaling using interactive light displays. It was conceptualized collaboratively and built by Dr Abe Karnik’s and members of his Human Computer Interaction (HCI) lab in the Interactive Systems Group at Lancaster University.

The StomataToy activities were a huge attraction at the Science Sunday and Get Experimental at Botanical Garden events of the Glasgow Science festival. Since then, the StomaToy success has attracted several followers on Twitter and resources have been shared to local schools and with plant science departments in Sheffield, Germany and Ireland. Institute’s administrator and public engagement co-ordinator Claire Osborne has worked on this project to create a web and social media presence to measure impact.

The StomaToy project is supported by funding from the Royal Society and the MVLS Engagement Fund. Research in Karnik lab centres around plant growth and immunity and is funded by the Royal Society, University of Glasgow, Begonia Trust and the BBSRC.

First published: 23 August 2019

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