A citizen science project that links both urban and rural school students with agriculture has recently celebrated five years of success, with more than 16,300 Western Australian students from years one through to 12 from more than 220 schools participating in the project.
Mildew Mania is aimed at helping scientists in the fight against powdery mildew, a barley disease costing WA farmers up to $100 million in crop losses and fungicide control per year.
The project involves students ‘catching’ powdery mildew on different varieties of barley and sending the samples to researchers at the Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM), a national research centre co-supported by Curtin University and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
CCDM researcher Dr Nola D’Souza said thanks to Mildew Mania, her research team has received powdery mildew samples from many locations across WA over the past five years, which has been pivotal in keeping better track of the pathogen and watching for the development of new pathotypes.
“If we were to travel to each school location to collect samples, it would be equivalent to driving more than 15 days straight,” Dr D’Souza said.
“Mildew Mania gives us a much better cross-section of what’s actually out there than we could ever imagine of doing on our own.
“Consequently, through our testing regime, we can monitor whether resistant barley varieties retain their resistance, and when we find a break down in plant resistance to powdery mildew, CCDM and GRDC can actively disseminate information to growers on which varieties are affected.
“Thanks to last year’s samples, we’ve been able to confirm that there have been no new break downs in plant resistance to powdery mildew, so that’s great news for growers,” Dr D’Souza said.
One of the first WA schools to sign up to the project was Coolbinia Primary School in the City of Stirling.
Coolbinia Primary School teacher Dr Elaine Lewis said signing up to the Mildew Mania project five years ago was a ‘no-brainer’ as it ticked so many boxes in the curriculum.
“Mildew Mania has been a wonderful project over the years – it’s fantastic to see students taking part in a real scientific experiment that makes a real difference to farmers,” Dr Lewis said.
“It’s also such a visual experiment – when powdery mildew grows on some varieties of barley, and not others, students can tell right away some of the challenges farmers go through when producing a healthy crop.”
CCDM Co-Director Professor Mark Gibberd said he was proud to see this project continue to deliver a win-win for both science and education, and looks forward to seeing the project continue into the future.
“Activities such as Mildew Mania provide an important link between school children and agriculture,” Professor Gibberd said.
“School children in cities such as Perth often have very limited exposure to agriculture and Mildew Mania opens their eyes to real world problems and solutions associated with modern food production.”
Mildew Mania is coordinated by Curtin Science Outreach and will continue in 2017. Interested schools should contact Curtin Science Outreach at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Mildew Mania visit www.mildewmania.com.au.