8-12 years old
When you feel sick, you often go to visit the doctor. He or she may tell you what is causing your illness. In most cases, you will probably be told that your illness is caused by a type of bacteria or virus. However, there are other pathogens that can make you ill as well. The word pathogen refers to any particle or organism that can enter the body and cause illness or infection. There are four major types of pathogens that can invade the human body - bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. In this activity you will learn how to identify each of these four pathogens and make models of common examples in each category.
The following paragraphs will describe each type of pathogen first and then provide you with instructions in order to make models of your own.
There are many types of bacteria that can infect the human body. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, most bacteria are smaller than 0.01 mm and all have similar features within their cell. A bacteria cell typically contains a cell wall, a cell membrane, cytoplasm and genetic material in a coiled chain. The picture below gives a general idea of the layout of a bacterial cell.
Bacteria reproduce through binary fission, which occurs when the bacteria replicates its genetic material and splits in half. Bacteria do not need other bacteria in order to reproduce. In the right conditions, one single bacterial cell can reproduce to thousands in a very short period.
Some of the most well known bacterial infections are strep throat, food poisoning and the Black Death (Bubonic Plague). Only infections that are caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics. The instructions below show you how to make models of the strep throat bacteria, the Black Death and E. Coli, a type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning.
To make Strep Throat (streptococcus) bacteria
To make E. Coli bacteria
To make the Black Death (yersinia pestis) bacteria
Although viruses can cause very nasty illnesses, most scientists have supported the idea that viruses are not even living organisms. Most viruses are on the nanometer scale, which is a billion times smaller than a meter. A virus has two main parts - a protein coating and genetic material (DNA or RNA). A virus cannot reproduce by itself. It requires a host cell, into which it can inject its genetic material. The cell will then reproduce more viruses until it becomes so full it bursts open, releasing all of the new viruses into the body. The new viruses can move on to infect more cells.
Common viruses that you may be familiar with are the common cold, the flu, and the chicken pox. Some viruses, such as polio and the measles, can be prevented with vaccines. Vaccines are usually dead or weakened forms of the virus that are introduced in the human body in order to allow the immune system to build defense against the virus. Viruses like the cold, flu and HIV are more difficult to make vaccines for because there are so many different types of each. You cannot treat a viral infection with an antibiotic.
Follow the directions below to make a model of one common cold virus (a rhinovirus).
To make a Rhinovirus
A fungus that causes an infection or illness can range in size from a single celled organism to several cells connected together, which can grow up to centimeters in length. Fungus cells are different from bacterial cells in that their genetic material is enclosed in a control center called a nucleus. It also contains energy factories called mitochondria. Like bacteria, fungus cells contain a cell wall, a cell membrane and cytoplasm.
Single celled fungus organisms reproduce much like bacteria by splitting in two. Larger fungus, however, require multiple fungi in order to fertilize and reproduce. The mushrooms and toadstools that you see in the grocery store or in your yard are actually reproductive organs for fungus!
Some fungi you may be familiar with are athlete's foot, ringworm and bread mold. Below you will find instructions for making a model of bread mold.
To make Bread Mold (Rhizopus nigricans)
There are three major types of parasites - protozoa (single-celled parasites), insects and worms. Protozoa behave much like bacterial cells and reproduce in a comparable manner. Parasitic insects and worms behave like regular insects and worms, except they use humans to get nutrients and transportation. Parasites that you may have heard of are tapeworms, hook worms, lice or bed bugs. Follow the directions below to make a model of a hookworm.
To make a Hookworm (Anclystoma duodenale)
The next time you get sick and the doctor tells you what illness you have, you might be able to tell whether or not it is a virus, bacteria, parasite or fungus! You may already know what it looks like! However, if it is something that is unfamiliar to you, you can always look it up and make your own model to play with while you stay at home and get better!