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Learning microbiology through comics

What do most people know about microbes? We know that they are tiny creatures that can attack us, causing illness, and kill us. Recent outbreaks such as measles and the coronavirus (COVID-19) are discussed in the media heavily. We understand microbes through mass media; it is not surprising there is widespread antibiotic abuse.

However, scientists are also to blame; we are failing to communicate science to society with accurate and rigorous facts and also in simple words so everybody can understand, engage, and act accordingly. An excellent example of this failure is the vaccine hesitancy, listed by the World Health Organization as one of the ten threats to global health.

Fortunately, in the last few years, there has been an increasing concern among the scientific community about science education, and microbiology is not the exception. Scientific journals are considering microbiology education as thematic issueseditorial comments, and consensus statements. There are even new journals specifically dedicated to microbiology education.

Why is microbiology so important? We live in a microbial world, yet gaining awareness of this unseen world is not easy. Microbes are hidden in plain sight. We live most of our life with no proof of their ubiquitous existence. However, microbes matter to our lives and to every ecosystem. They were the first organisms on Earth and will definitely be the last ones. Thanks to them, all life forms we know were possible and the list of awesome things they can do is infinite.

The only tool we have to bring microbes closer to society and to change misconceptions is microbiology education. Teachers need to introduce the discipline to children at early ages so kids can appreciate these amazing organisms and comprehend their importance to all forms of life, to climate, food, health, and much more. But teaching microbiology isn’t easy. How confident can a teacher be to talk about invisible organisms with such a bad reputation? We need to explore resources in order to make educators feel confident and passionate about the discipline so they can share it, and we need to spark children’s interest.  Comics are one great resource.

This two-page comic depicts antibiotic resistance acquisition among bacteria, introducing the concept of horizontal gene transfer in simple words. Taken from “Bacteria: the tinniest story ever told” created by the author’s group.

Comics are entertaining, visual, and easy to follow at the reader´s own pace. They are an excellent resource for explaining difficult concepts and things that are beyond human perception, such as microbes. They seem to be the perfect tool for children to gain awareness of the invisible world of microbes, to comprehend their complexity and beauty, and to understand that we cohabitate this planet not only with all the organisms that we can see, but also with those hidden in plain sight. In addition, who doesn´t like comics?

There are some great comic strips and comic books dedicated to introduce microbiology concepts and themes. Different subjects such as human microbiota and how we relate and depend on it, vaccines and how they work, and diseases like measles and Ebola are some examples of microbiology comics that can be found online.

It is important to generate more resources for microbiology education. We need to evaluate the efficiency of comics in knowledge acquisition and explore other tools that might do the job. Microbiologists and educators should make it clear to policymakers that if we invest in microbiology education, the outcome will be an informed society that will understand the importance of using antibiotics responsibly and avoid one of the biggest threats to global health today. People wouldn’t question vaccination to protect those who are most vulnerable and exposed. Finally people will understand that protecting biodiversity is a necessity.

We need to talk more about microbes, because microbiology can be comic but the outcome of a society with no microbiology literacy is not.

[Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect the WHO’s latest naming guidelines for the disease COVID-19.]

Featured Image Credit: ‘Virus-1913183_1920’ by Monoar. Public domain via Pixabay.

Recent Comments

  1. makhzansazeh

    There are tiny creatures that can attack us

  2. Rochelle

    As an independent microbiology tutor, I have students DM me about their struggles with micro. I was just telling a student that we all love to tell and hear stories. I suggested that she turn microbiology into a story. It can help her understand and remember the material. The comic is a great idea!

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