Teaching Biosecurity

In News, Spring/Summer 2018 by Lydia Marcus

Handwashing may seem too trivial a habit to address in a college-level lab, but for agriculture students, handwashing is a significant biosecurity precaution required in their field.

Biosecurity is basically implementing “procedures to protect humans or animals from disease or pathogens outside of their normal living situation,” explains Steve Bogaard, natural sciences lab coordinator.

“For both four-year and Pro-Tech agriculture students, biosecurity is a real-world topic that they will have to deal with in their future employment places,” says Bogaard. “From high-end human pharmaceutical to small family farms, transferring ‘bugs’ from one facility to another is a real concern.”

Agriculture students got to see for themselves how easily “bugs” can spread and stick around even after quick hand washes when agriculture professor Dr. Duane Bajema secretly dusted students’ papers and the lab floor with GloGerm, a white powder that glows under black light. After some time had passed, students had unknowingly dispersed the GloGerm throughout the lab. Bajema and Bogaard used a black light to illuminate the surfaces of the lab—which was now covered in the powder—to demonstrate how pervasive contaminants can be. Students spent the rest of lab testing how long it took to effectively wash the GloGerm “bugs” from their hands and other surfaces.

“It was an important visual experience because it proved to us how easy it is to spread bacteria and other substances from object to person, and to anything else that we touch,” says senior biology major Emma DeVries. “Some people had GloGerm on their faces, and it was all over our clothes. We had even spread some in the hallway, and we found it all over the floor and on our shoes from where we had walked.”

Bajema hopes the memorable demonstration will stick with his students as they enter the workforce.

“Students need to understand why biosecurity protocols are necessary, and they need to be in a position to teach others in case they find themselves supervising workers in the future,” says Bajema.

“It is easy to get in a routine and become lax when following procedures,” says DeVries. “When that happens, mistakes can be made, and the consequences can potentially be severe. This lab prompted me to be more thorough when entering or leaving an agriculture or lab setting and to think more about the procedures that are in place and why.”