James Macarthur Biological Sciences Post Grad in Lab

Scary stories feature slime, black fungus and biofilms to raise awareness of microbiology

The slime of an ancient mariner – a story about a nautical journey where the crew members encounter an ancient oceanic biofilm with catastrophic intentions – was the winning story for a national competition to raise awareness of microbiology as a career path.

First prize was awarded to an imaginative and creative story – whose title was inspired by the 18th century poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge.

The Coccus Pocus competition, now in its third year, is organised by the Department of Biomedical and Forensic Sciences at the University of Hull and is supported by the National Biofilms Innovation Centre as part of their #BiofilmAware campaign.

The competition aims to increase awareness of the important problems of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and biofilm formation by microbial pathogens, and to generate enthusiasm in young people about the fascinating field of microbiology.

The competition is aimed at is aimed at school, college and university students and contestants were tasked with writing a short horror or sci-fi story between 500 and 2,000 words, including themes of antimicrobial resistance and/or microbial biofilms.

Dr Georgios Efthimiou, a lecturer in microbiology in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Hull, said: “We were delighted with the ingenuity and creativity of some of the entries. From the ancient oceanic biofilm to an antibiotic-resistant black fungus – the winners really had fun with the topic.”

The evaluation committee ranked stories according to the intrigue of their plot, use of language, character description and scientific soundness. The winners are listed below.

Winners

First prize for the 18+ age group (a £100 Amazon voucher) was awarded to Lizzy Cairns, a microbiology MSc student from the University of Glasgow. Her story, ‘The slime of ancient mariner’, is about a nautical journey where the crew members encounter an ancient oceanic biofilm with catastrophic intentions.

Aleyna Lumsden, a biomedical science undergraduate from the University of Warwick, received the second prize (a £30 voucher) for her story Golden Berries, where a group of bacteriophages travel through a slimy Staphylococcus aureus biofilm.

Rhianne Lee, also an undergraduate student from the University of Warwick, was awarded the third prize (a £20 voucher) for her story Dissociation, which tells the tale of a patient suffering from an antibiotic-resistant black fungus that causes some very weird symptoms.

All winners in the 12-17 age group were from the Engineering UTC Northern Lincolnshire college and were inspired to enter the competition by their creative engineering teacher, Zoe Hennchen.

For this age group, first prize (a £100 Amazon voucher) was awarded to Libby Palmer for the story ‘The plane crush’, the second prize (£30) to Jakob Dicken who wrote ‘Biofilm World’ and the 3rd prize (£20) to Georgie Healer for ‘Bio-film: A horror story’.

Congratulations to all the winning entries.

The network of Coccus Pocus ambassadors – academics, PhD students and teachers in schools and universities who promote the competition – continues to grow with new recruits now in France, Greece, Malta and Denmark.

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