The Department of Microbiology organized its third knowledge exchange activity for secondary school students during April to May 2019. It was the first time that we had secondary school students visit our new laboratory since our move to Block T, Queen Mary Hospital and we were very excited to show them all our new facilities and equipment. Two knowledge exchange sessions were held on 27th April 2019 by Dr Jasper Chan and Dr Raven Kok. Another two knowledge exchange sessions were held on 11th May 2019 by Dr Jade Teng and Dr Philip Yeung. We also increased our number of attendees this year and a total of 227 students and 5 teachers from five secondary schools attended the four activities. Each session included a 30 minutes seminar, titled “Development of Animal Models for the study of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus”, which introduced the emergence of the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and the development of transgenic mice models by our team in HKU to study the Middle East respiratory syndrome (presentation can be downloaded here), followed by a guided laboratory tour of facilities and equipment such as the BSL-3 laboratory, animal rooms, tissue culture laboratories, bacterial and fungal cultivation facilities, and PCR and sequencing machines, and a 30 minutes researcher-student interactive discussion on recent advanced research platforms and technology. In line with our theme on animal models, we also demonstrated to the students the use of a fluorescence microscope to view fluorescence emitted from an ear punch of a transgenic mouse that expressed the GFP protein.

The main aims of the knowledge exchange programme were:

1. To introduce to secondary school students the MERS-CoV and the transgenic mouse model developed by our team in HKU for the study of Middle East respiratory syndrome.

2. To show secondary school students the state-of-the-art equipment and some essential procedures on generating transgenic mice in HKU.

3. To arouse the interests of secondary school students on scientific research and impress them on its importance for Hong Kong, China and the world.

We received a lot of positive feedback from the participants and many students commented that the presentations gave them a clearer concept of MERS and the transgenic technology which can be used to investigate the disease. The students were very impressed with the laboratory visit and seeing all the apparatus in the laboratory. They particularly enjoyed the laboratory demonstrations, such as viewing of the fluorescence-emitting ear of the transgenic mouse, observing kidney cells in the tissue culture facility, and looking at bacteria and fungus growth on agar plates. They remarked that the laboratory visit was very useful in helping them to relate to what they have learnt at school. In addition, the interactive sessions at the end expanded the students’ knowledge of scientific research beyond their secondary school curriculum and inspired them to understand more of the research and medical field. Overall, the KE activities allowed the students to develop a better understanding of the use of animal models to study infectious diseases and was successful in arousing their interest into understanding the critical importance of scientific research in this field to human health.