Investigating the antibacterial properties of plants: Introducing STEM Careers


This resource is part of the SAPS Careers in Science series, a set of resources to support science teachers in integrating STEM careers information with practical activities. This resource is aimed at post-16 students.

In this resource, students investigate the antibacterial properties of plants. Their investigation is placed in the context of a case study of Julian Ma, Professor of Molecular Immunology and joint head of the Infection and Immunity Research Centre at St George’s Hospital Medical School in London.

Julian specialises in ‘pharming’ – the production of medicines by plants. In particular, he hopes that his work will enable people to produce medicines at a lower cost than traditional methods, allowing them to become available to many millions of people across the world.

Students read the case study and watch the video about Julian’s medical research, and then carry out a practical using the disc diffusion method, testing various plants to see if they make chemicals which have antimicrobial properties.

The video of Julian Ma is available online here.

We hope that this will inspire young people to think more broadly about the role of medical research, and the potential of bioscience careers.

This resource includes full teachers’ notes, foundation, higher, extension and plenary activities, a case study, a students’ worksheet and technical notes for the practical.

Starter activity: Case study and questions
Foundation activity: Testing herbs for antimicrobial properties
Higher activity: Antimicrobial molecules
Extension activity: Testing thyme
Plenary activity: Pharming potential


Careers education

Pupils should develop interest in and enthusiasm for science, including developing an interest in further study and careers in sciences.

How science works

Pupils should develop and demonstrate a deeper appreciation of the skills, knowledge and understanding of How science works.

Cellular control

Pupils will know that gene technologies allow study and alteration of gene function in order to better understand organism function and to design new industrial and medical processes.

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