Microbiology, 2016 draft of the new senior syllabus

Microbiology: 2016 draft of the new senior syllabus: In reference to the QLD Biology 2016 Draft Senior Syllabus: The Unit 2, Topic 2.2 Infectious Disease,  (MANDATORY practical: Investigate the effect of an antimicrobial on the growth of a microbiological organism (via the measurement of zones of inhibition) AND Suggested practical: Investigate the efficiency of hand washing compared to alcohol-based antiseptic gels for reducing the bacterial load on hands using agar plates or other modelling activity).

Are there any regulations/guidance/training available for ALL staff involved—as this unit, as it is, has potential for lots of "issues" for many schools.

I question growth of unknown bacteria from hands particularly.

Thanks.

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Publication Date: 31 August 2016
Asked By: jburton
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Microbiology, 2016 draft of the new senior syllabus

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In brief:

As at 7 March 2017, the Queensland Biology draft senior syllabus is undergoing further revision.1

School policies: Currently in Australia, there are differences between the state/territory educational jurisdictional policies on whether certain microbiological activities can be carried out. Schools are advised to check what activities are permitted in their jurisdiction/school sector before proceeding to work with any microorganisms. Schools should consider eliminating or substituting high-risk elements of activities that they are unable to mitigate.

Guidance: Science ASSIST has developed 'Guidelines for safe practice for microbiology in Australian schools'. 

Training: We are not aware of any current specific training programmes in microbiology for school science staff. It is essential that staff conducting activities in microbiology have received training in microbiology in order to be aware of and safely manage the risks.

Growth of unknown microorganisms: Regarding concerns about placing fingers directly on agar plates: the microbial growth on the agar from this activity will be microorganisms that are unknown and there is a risk that these may include human pathogens. The likelihood of this can be reduced by following safe procedures such as using only nutrient agar and incubating at < 30° C. Exposure to the growth of unknown microorganisms can be prevented by never opening the plates. Following incubation, plates should be sealed with Parafilm or similar to prevent students being able to open them.  The plates must be sterilised before disposal, as noted in the recommendations below.

Microbiology Risk Management

Science ASSIST recommends a site-specific biological risk assessment2 be conducted where all hazards are identified and appropriate control methods implemented before commencing work on either of these activities.

Before schools embark on working with microorganisms, they should ask the following questions and perform a site-specific biological risk assessment similar to the following.

  • What microorganism is being used? Is it a Risk Group 1 microorganism? Microorganisms that are classified as Risk Group 1 are the only ones that should be used in PC1 laboratories, i.e. low risk—not associated with disease in healthy people. It should be noted that, even though the microorganisms are from RG1, some can still pose a low level of risk to the community as they can be capable of causing disease, if provided with appropriate conditions (referred to as opportunistic). People who are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed are at greater risk.
  • Do the school facilities comply with the requirements of Physical Containment Level 1 laboratories? School science laboratories are generally classified as Physical Containment level 1 (PC1), if they conform to the requirements specified in Section 5 of AS/NZS 2243.3:2010 Safety in Laboratories – Microbiological safety and containment3. If they do conform to these requirements, and there are many school labs that don’t, then they are only suitable for work with microorganisms where the hazard levels are low, and where laboratory or facility personnel can be adequately protected by standard laboratory practice4.
  • Does the school have the necessary equipment for sterilisation and decontamination procedures? An autoclave or pressure cooker should be available for sterile preparation of agar/broth etc., and for decontamination5.
  • Do staff have training in microbiological skills? Staff should be trained in good microbiological technique, competency and confidence when performing procedures, interpretations and outcomes of activities, and competency in microbiological hazard awareness to maximise the student experience in microbiology.
  • What manipulations are being performed with the microorganism? Are methods being used to eliminate or minimize exposure to potentially infectious material via aerosols, splashes, ingestion, absorption and accidental inoculation? Staff should have training in microbiological skills including: proficiency in aseptic technique to eliminate or minimize exposure to potentially infectious material via aerosols, splashes, ingestion, absorption and accidental inoculation; subculturing procedures; sterilisation; and decontamination procedures, and also have the ability to identify contamination of pure cultures. Suitable PPE should be provided, this includes lab coats and safety glasses. Cuts should be covered with a waterproof dressing and consideration should be given to the wearing of disposable gloves.
  • Are any staff or students wishing to participate in microbiological activities immunocompromised or immunosuppressed (include those who are pregnant or may become pregnant, or are living with or caring for an immunocompromised individual)? These individuals are more prone to infections. If so, then they should consult a doctor to determine whether their participation is appropriate.

Additional information:

Activity: “Investigate the effect of an antimicrobial on the growth of a microbiological organism”

Detailed instructions on the preparation of resources and running of this activity in class will be included in our forthcoming guidelines. Science ASSIST recommends the following.

  • The activity should be conducted in suitable facilities by trained staff, with close supervision of students.
  • Only low-risk microorganisms, such as RG1 microorganisms purchased from reputable biology suppliers, should be used in this activity. Refer to our science suppliers list.
  • Schools should only use nutrient agar as a suitable growth medium for this activity.
  • Appropriate PPE should be worn at all times. Cover any cuts with a waterproof dressing and consider wearing disposable gloves.
  • Aseptic technique should be used by staff in the preparation of all material and by students when carrying out this activity.
  • After inoculation and during the preparation for incubation, the plates should be kept closed using either four pieces of tape or a single layer of Parafilm to allow for aerobic conditions. These plates should never be reopened after incubation.
  • The incubation temperature recommended for schools is < 30° C. This temperature does not encourage the growth of pathogens potentially harmful to humans.
  • Following incubation, plates should be sealed with Parafilm or similar to prevent students being able to open the plates when observing them.
  • All cultures must be sterilised prior to disposal using an autoclave or pressure cooker.
  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after working with microorganisms.

Antimicrobials suitable for this activity include:

  • disinfectants such as household cleaners;
  • antiseptics such as skin cleansers;
  • antibiotics* – these are best purchased as discs pre-impregnated with a selected antibiotic.

*Safety Note: Antibiotics are commonly used in microbiology for antibiotic sensitivity testing. Caution with their use is required for several reasons: there are many people in the community who are sensitive or allergic to different classes of antibiotics, and their overuse or misuse can lead to the development of resistant microorganisms. Any antibiotic, including antibiotic discs, should not be handled if the person is allergic to that particular class of antibiotics. If antibiotic discs are used, they should be handled with clean forceps, which are then sterilised after use.

Activity: “Investigate the efficiency of hand washing compared to alcohol-based antiseptic gels for reducing the bacterial load on hands using agar plates”

The current draft of the syllabus indicates this activity is a “suggested” activity. There have been concerns regarding placing fingers directly on agar plates. The resulting growth from this activity will be microorganisms that are unknown and there is a potential for human pathogens. Therefore, these plates should only be observed visually and never be opened. Science ASSIST recommends that, if schools opt to do this activity, the following safeguards be used.

  • Only nutrient agar plates should be used as a suitable growth medium for this activity.
  • After inoculation, and in preparation for incubation, the plates should be sealed using either four pieces of tape or a single layer of Parafilm to allow for aerobic conditions. These plates should never be reopened after incubation.
  • The incubation temperature recommended for schools is < 30° C. This temperature does not encourage the growth of pathogens potentially harmful to humans.
  • Following incubation, plates should be sealed with Parafilm or similar to prevent students being able to open the plates when observing them.
  • Plates should be sterilised before disposal using an autoclave or pressure cooker.
  • Wash hands with soap and water at the conclusion of the activity.

Further information:

The following is a useful document with some considerations for biological activities:

Queensland Department of Education, Training and Employment.2013. Queensland DET website. http://education.qld.gov.au/curriculum/carmg/pdf/biological-activities.pdf (May 2013)

Here are some Science ASSIST resources and previously answered questions referring to methods and considerations for microbiology activities:

SOP: Preparing agar plates

SOP: Operating a pressure cooker and autoclave

AIS: Sterilising agar

AIS: Links — Biological sciences safety

AIS: Links — Support for school science - links to training providers, manuals and publications

Use of antibiotics (Amoxycil) in experiments

Inoculating agar plates and sealing them

Agar plate experiments

Pressure cookers

Bacteria

Microbiology

use of tears in a school practical

Using human tears in an experiment

References

1 'Redeveloping and revising senior syllabuses', Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority website, https://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/senior/new-snr-assessment-te/redev-snr-syll

2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2009. Biosafety in microbiological and biomedical laboratories (BMBL) 5th Edition. 2009. Section II Biological risk assessment. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website,  https://www.cdc.gov/biosafety/publications/bmbl5/ 

3 Standards Australia. 2010. AS NZS 2243.3-2010. Safety in Laboratories – Microbiological safety and containment. Sydney, Australia

4 'Microbiology’, University of Sydney WHS website, http://sydney.edu.au/whs/guidelines/biosafety/microbiol.shtml (October 2013)

5 Science ASSIST. 2014. ‘ASSIST Information Sheet: Sterilising agar’, Science ASSIST website, https://assist.asta.edu.au/resource/648/ais-sterilising-agar

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