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Dear UCSB Researchers, I am an 8th grade student hoping to research methods of resisting bordetella pertussis disease. I was thinking that if there was a vaccine that would increase the growth of cilia on our ciliated epithelial cells in our respiratory system, then we would be more protected from whooping cough. Would you think this could be a good hypothesis? "If our epithelial cells in our respiratory system produce continuous amounts of cilia, then our bodies will be more protected from bordetella pertussis." I see two possible questions to study:

1. Is there a chemical that can grow more cilia on lung cells?

Or

2. What can I use as a safe substitute that is just like bordetella pertussis?

I think that pertussis is too dangerous to use as a bacterium, so what would you recommend as a substitute? Also, how could I grow these cells at my home without a lab? Is there a way I can grow more cilia on cells? How could I actually measure how many cilia are present (would I take a picture and count)? Thank you! From an 8th grade scientist.

Answer 1:

Wow! That is a great hypothesis. You are correct in thinking that cilia are an important part of clearing respiratory pathogens, such as Bordetella pertussis, from the body. Bordetella pertussis is typically inhaled. It then attaches to the respiratory epithelium, which is ciliated. The bacterium then injects a toxin into the epithelial cells that prevents the cilia from moving and eventually kills these epithelial cells. This is important because the beating of the cilia is what moves the mucus (and anything trapped in it like bacteria) out of the body. If the cilia stop moving then Bordetella can hang out in the respiratory tract and grow there.

Your project is very complex. I definitely would not suggest growing Bordetella on your own and I am not aware of any particular chemical that would stimulate growth of cilia on epithelial cells. Prior to thinking about the materials you need, I might suggest thinking of how you would set up this experiment. What are you looking at specifically? What would that result look like? What will you be measuring to determine whether your hypothesis is supported? And how would you set up the experiment? What controls would you use? What you propose may not be as simple to carry out experimentally at home.

You may also want to think about the implications of increasing ciliation on epithelial cells. If you increase the number of cilia, would the cell have enough energy to cause efficient movement of the cilia? Say the cells are able to move the increased number of cilia. That would increase the removal of mucus by the epithelium. Would production of mucus be able to keep up with removal of mucus? If not, then protection of the respiratory epithelium might actually decrease.

I can tell that you are a very bright scientist in the making! Keep thinking!


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