Body at War – the immune system

Sir Gustav Nossal at GTAC

Sir Gustav Nossal at the Gene Technology Access Centre

On Tuesday 29th April, eight VCE Biology students attended the “Body at War” program for World Immunology Day at the Gene Technology Access Centre. The students joined with about eighty other students from government and independent schools to learn about the history, discovery and use of vaccinations against diseases such as smallpox and polio.

Students were welcomed by Prof. Phil Hodgkin, who spoke about the long history of immunology, including the famous scientists who have discovered how diseases can be prevented using vaccination. They then had the great privilege of hearing Sir Gustav Nossal, scientist and former Australian of the Year, speak about the progress of eradicating infectious diseases from across the world over the past two decades. They then rotated through three different workshops; learning about the bodies immune response through a computer game, identifying diseased mouse tissue using staining and microscopy and then simulating a Streptococcus pneumoniae diagnosis.

Students have been very fortunate to be invited to this special program, as only up to 10 students from selected schools were able to attend this free event. They also had the opportunity to work with working scientists in small groups and hear from three young scientists about their journey into research and career prospects for scientists.

Prior to attending the session, it was useful to know about pathogens, or disease causing agents. These range in size from the smallest sub-microscopic particles (prions) to multicellular organisms.

  • Prions  (BSE or mad-cow disease)
  • Viruses (influenza, herpes, chicken-pox)
  • Bacteria (tuberculosis, tetanus, Staphylococcus, Salmonella)
  • Protozoans (malaria, amoebas)
  • Fungus (athlete’s foot, Candida)
  • Worms (tapeworm, nematodes)
  • Ticks and mites

You can find out more about pathogens and the immune system here:

It will also be useful to watch the “Life on Us” program at 8.30pm Sunday night on SBS One. This two-part series has powerful imagery showing various microscopic pathogens that inhabit the human body – you can watch a short promotional video here.

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