Throw away that cracked cup and drink up your seaweed

 

DO YOU KNOW that favourite mug? The one with the cracks and chip that you just can’t throw away? Well get rid of it fast before it gets rid of you.

Two 5th-year students from Causeway Comprehensive School in north Kerry have discovered that harmful bacteria live comfortably in those cracks that help make your mug look distinctive. Those struggling with conditions that weaken immunity are particularly at risk of severe illness and even cancer, the students warn.

Katie Case (17) and Mairéad Moriarty (16) decided to find out whether there was more than tea in those chipped mugs.

“Katie was drinking out of a mug at my home and my mother told her to throw it away,” Mairéad explained. This prompted them to undertake research to discover whether the idea of discarding cracked mugs was a good one.

In attempting to answer this question, the two had to learn about the different kinds of bacteria and how to culture them in order to study them. “We started in school, taking swabs of the cracks and transferring them to a Petri dish,” Mairéad said.

They also linked up with Dr Jakki Cooney at the University of Limerick, who showed them how to stain and study whatever they managed to find.

Needless to say cracks and chips do harbour nasty organisms. They found Acinetobacter, which aren’t too bad but they also identified Pseudomonas, a nasty article that is the second most common infectious agent responsible for hospital-acquired infections. The girls’ simple advice as a result of their findings? “If you have a chipped cup then throw it away now.”

Three students from Clonakilty Community College in Cork decided to put something a bit healthier into a mug – an extract squeezed out of seaweed. So successful have they been that they are gearing up to turn the drink they are developing into a commercial product.

Declan Moore, David Ryan and Barry Holland, all aged 16 and in fifth year, entered a project last year to derive an extract from bladderwrack, a common seaweed. They managed this and proved that it had powerful antioxidant properties, something that helped them win third place in their category at last year’s the young scientist exhibitio.

It didn’t end there, however. They entered and won a national competition run by AgriAware called the Green Dragon Innovation Challenge. This gave them business mentors and money to continue their research and, they hope, bring a product to market. Their entry this year charts their progress, including the introduction of their product name, Oceanaboost.