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Antibody challenge

Activity: Children can play a game to see which type of “germ” an antibody is effective against

Antibody challenge in action

Aim: To demonstrate antibody specificity, i.e. show that each type of antibody is only effective against one species of pathogen. This game can also be used to show immunological memory.

How to make:

  • Make counters from polystyrene tubing available from here by cutting approx. 1cm-wide discs from the tubing.
  • Stick pictures of cartoon germs (we used these - you can use them or source your own) mounted onto white card onto the discs of polystyrene. Aim to make six groups of germs, with around four germs in each group.
  • Next, stick a magnet - this could be a magnetic washer or a disc magnet - in between the card and polystyrene disc of one of the groups of germs.
  • You should now have around 24 small polystyrene discs with six different germs stuck on them, and one type of germ will have a magnet or a magnetic washer stuck between the cardboard and polystyrene.
  • It is also helpful to have a diagram handy which shows antibodies binding to a germ. You can use this one, or create your own!

What to do: Put all the ‘germ’ counters in a tray and give the visitor an ‘antibody’ (this is, in reality, a magnet - if possible a horseshoe magnet as it looks antibody-shaped). Using the “antibody”, they will need to test which of the pathogens on the tray the antibody will bind to. The “antibody” will only “bind” to a specific germ. You can use this game to show how immunological memory works by getting the visitor to complete the task twice and by using a timer. The second time they should be able to immediately identify which pathogen the antibody will attach to and therefore get rid of the pathogen out of the body before it can multiply and make you sick.

This activity relies on you interacting with the visitors and giving an introduction to the activity to explain that each type of antibody is specific to one type of pathogen. You can also adapt this game to different age groups – e.g. for very young children, you can just play “can you catch the germ” whereas for older children, you can give more of an explanation around how the immune system works.

If possible, make 2 sets of the game and make different germs magnetic. This way, spectators watching one game can try a new game without knowing which of the germs will “bind” to the “antibody”.