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POTATO POWER FOR PUPILS

Posted 30 April 2004

Budding young scientists in Telford have been awarded £2,500 to investigate tiny worms that invade potato crops, costing millions each year.

Year five pupils from Dothill Primary School have been awarded £2,496 from the prestigious Royal Society to work with crops experts from Harper Adams University College, Newport. The youngsters will be learning about potato cyst nematodes; microscopic worms that cause more than £40 million of damage to potato crops in the UK every year.

The worms invade plant roots from the soil where they damage and stunt the roots, making them less effective at taking up nutrients and water. The resultant plants are slower growing, stunted and produce lower potato yields.

The pupils set up and will monitor an experiment at their school that will show the damage caused by the tiny worms. As well as visiting a commercial potato grower in Shropshire, the children will learn more about nematodes, other pests, food production and research at Harper Adams.

The University College’s Dr Patrick Haydock, an expert in Nematology, visited the children at school this month to help the children plant seed tubers, and will be helping them monitor the plants until they are harvested in July.

Dothill teacher, Biddy Haydock, said: “The children had a great morning setting up the experiment. They enjoyed learning about the beneficial and harmful nematodes found in soil and getting their hands dirty, planting 120 potatoes in all. We are grateful to the parents and grandparents who came in for the morning to help out”

Dr Patrick Haydock added: “This project will help the children to understand the basic principles of designing fair experiments, take part in a group project where cooperation and team work is necessary, and understand what resources plants need to grow. By the end of the project as well as learning where and how potatoes are grown and why we must protect our food crops from pests, they will be able to take home and eat the potatoes they have grown themselves.”

At the end of the project, helped by Dothill Primary School’s science coordinator, Peter Bridger and class teachers Debbie Taylor, Biddy Haydock and Linda Brench, pupils will write up the experiment and produce a scientific poster.

The partnership grant has been used to buy essential equipment including microscopes, a glasshouse, balances, pots and seed potatoes. The scheme, which is sponsored by ExonMobil and the Mercers’ Company, has been set up to support teachers, scientists and engineers who want to work together to inspire youngsters. It gives students a taste of science and engineering today, and allows teachers to increase their scientific knowledge and improve communications skills. Educational materials for use in the project have also been supplied by the British Potato Council.

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