MiSAC at 50
The Microbiology in Schools Advisory Committee (MiSAC) was founded in July 1969 following a symposium, Teaching Microbiology in Schools. It was realised there was a need to promote and support new and specialist areas of biology teaching, such as microbiology, which were being introduced into schools at that time. MiSAC was tasked with promoting microbiology in the school syllabus, encouraging practical work and the safe use of microorganisms and supporting teacher and technician training – which it has continued to do ever since.
The committee was supported in its early days by the Microbiology Society (MS, formerly SGM), the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) and, among others, the Association for Science Education (ASE), the Department for Education and Science (DES), the Public Health Laboratories and the Schools Council. Later, the British Mycological Society (BMS), the Royal Society for Biology (RSB), CLEAPSS, the Scottish Schools Equipment Research Centre (SSERC), the National Centre for Biotechnology Education (NCBE) and the Quekett Microscopical Club (QMC) became sponsors. As time passed, Government departments disappeared and sponsors changed, but the membership of MiSAC still consists of representatives of sponsoring organisations and those appointed for their particular expertise in microbiology and education, all of whom work on a voluntary basis. MiSAC works closely with its sponsors on all aspects of microbiology advice and education.
Over the years, MiSAC has advised Government bodies, ASE, school suppliers, exam boards, learned societies, publishers and schools on the safe use of microorganisms. The use of local schools-advisors for microbiology has given way to advice supplied on the internet. Articles have been written in the educational press advising on careers in microbiology. MiSAC has, often in conjunction with MS and NCBE, run regular training courses for teachers and technicians in microbiology throughout the UK. MiSAC has also spread the word on microbiology education at workshops and lectures at teachers’ conferences; it was the founder of the National Centre for Biotechnology Education (NCBE) and a founder member of the European Federation of Microbiological Societies (FEMS). John Grainger, Chairman of MiSAC, was awarded an MBE in 2019 in the Queen's Birthday Honours 'for Services to Microbiology'.
Publications have featured high in MiSAC’s approach to promoting knowledge and safety in school microbiology. These include Government booklets, Basic Practical Microbiology – A Manual (funded by MS), Practical Microbiology for Secondary Schools (with NCBE) and a series of factsheets (MiSACactivities, MiSACbriefings, MiSAChelps, MiSACmatters) which are available on line.
In 1985, a schools’ competition was introduced to encourage Key Stage 3 & 4 year-group students (S1/S2 in Scotland) to independently research topics which were closely related to the syllabus but also required them to ‘look outside the box’ for scientific information. It became an annual event in 1994 and has proved an extremely successful part of MiSAC's programme. Entrants are required to produce items such as school or public information posters, newspaper articles, information leaflets for doctors’ surgeries and infographic posters on a chosen topic. The annual competition has been funded by special sponsorship from MiSAC sponsors e.g BMS, QMC or by external sponsors e.g. Yakult, British Society for Immunology, NFU. BMS has been generous in its support of the annual competition and fungal topics have proved very popular.
2011 UK Competition Flyer 2014 UK Competition Flyer Winning UK Entry 2014
We have also been busy spreading the word overseas. In the early days, MiSAC members were involved in setting up collaborative educational projects in Europe, in particular in Scandinavia and worked closely with FEMS. Elsewhere, MISAC concepts and materials have been shared in Malaysia, Thailand, China, Korea and India through talks, workshops, teacher training courses and the production of a manual of microbiology and STEM microbiology activities. The MiSAC schools’ competition has become a popular feature in Thailand and China where BMS has been a successful joint sponsor and where the competition winners have produced entries of a very high standard.
2 Winning infographic posters - Thai Competition 2018 'Commercial Uses of Fungi'.
To commemorate 50 years of promoting microbiology education, MiSAC has commissioned over 30 illustrated articles from leading microbiologists, many of whom are BMS members, with a foreword by Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel Laureate. The collection is published on the MiSAC website www.misac.org.uk. The articles, aimed at 16-18+ students, cover a range of microbiological topics and are intended to increase awareness of microorganisms and their importance in every aspect of life. They feature cutting-edge research and information on current topics in the news, including the role of fungi in recycling plastics, biorecovery of valuable elements by fungi, oomycete devastation of fish farming and invasive plant diseases such as ash die back. And, with an eye to the future, MiSAC hopes to add further articles of current interest to the collection in future years.
Margaret Whalley - Treasurer of MiSAC. BMS Member.