StomaToy

Learning Plant Defence Through Play

How do plants defend themselves against infection?

We are surrounded by plants. Plants are really important to us and our planet because they produce many essentials of life including oxygen to breathe and food to eat. Plant scientists study plant life. This knowledge is used for developing technologies for increasing crop productivity to help achieve global food security.

Surprisingly many parallels can be drawn between plants and humans. Plants have tiny ‘mouths’ called STOMATA on their leaf surface which allow the exchange of gases and water with the environment. Like humans, plants have a complex immune system for defence against microbial pathogen or ‘germs’ invisible to our eyes. If we put hands covered in germs into our mouth, we become sick; similarly, pathogen entering the stomata causes infection in plants and can make them sick! To prevent germ infection, plants close their stomata as a first strategy of defence. Thus, stomata are the guardians of plants!

Hi kids! Isn’t it cool that plants are alike us in so many ways? So, what can we learn from plants? Well, they teach us ways to protect ourselves from germs!

The StomaToy video

The StomaToy video shows how plants and stomatal pores on leaves are important to us. 

Start by watching the StomaToy video first, then go onto the leaf cube and activity book.

The StomaToy video features the electronic interactive StomaToy that demonstrates defence signalling in plants using lights.

Stomata are pores that open and close to protect against leaf drying while enabling CO2 entry into the leaf for photosynthesis. Closure of the Stomatal pore is the first line of defence against microbial pathogen infection. This gas exchange drives photosynthesis and helps plants to grow. Plants constantly face the conundrum of choosing growth vs immunity. Stomatal biologists study how plants control stomatal movements in response to environmental changes using cell biology, mathematical modelling and plant physiology analysis.

Video is suitable for ages 3+

English version
Spanish version
Chinese version

Credits: This video is prepared and edited by a member of the public, Flora Leask working with plant scientist Dr. Lingfeng Xia in the Karnik lab. 

StomaToy Paper Cube

The paper StomaToy Cube combines colour in, cutting out and assembly of your own leaf cross-section providing the opportunity for younger children to learn about plants, leaf organisation and stomata.

What will you see if you cut a section of a leaf and look at it under a microscope? You can make your own paper 3D leaf cube section with microscopic detail. Simply use your imagination to colour in and follow instructions to cut along the purple lines. Then, glue together the sections with matching numbers and your StomaToy Leaf cube is ready! Find the stomata on the surface, with layers of cells placed underneath and the ‘veins’ that transport water close to the stomata for transpiration.

This activity will require supervision for children and is suited for the 4+ year olds.

English version
Spanish version
Chinese version

Credits: In the StomaToy booklet and the leaf cube, plant science is conveyed through drawings by Dr. Mathis Riehle, a Cell Engineer at the University of Glasgow.

StomaToy Activity Book

The StomaToy Activity Book is full of learning and fun activities. You get to become a plant scientist and do real data analysis!

In our lab, we study how ion and water transport in cells helps regulate the opening and closing of stomata in response to pathogen infection. We use model plants called Arabidopsis in our research. We infect Arabidopsis plants with bacterial pathogens and study the infected plants. Infected leaves become ‘necrotic’ (yellow/brown in colour). The StomaToy activity book has some real data from our laboratory experiments.
You can become plant scientists and analyse these data and record your results! Also included is a ‘Complete a Drawing’ page in the activity book where you can show off what you have learned from the StomaToys as budding new plant scientists.

This activity is ideal for the 6+ year olds

English version
Spanish version
Chinese version

Credits: In the StomaToy booklet and the leaf cube, plant science is conveyed through drawings by Dr. Mathis Riehle, a Cell Engineer at the University of Glasgow.

You can meet the StomaToy team by visiting StomaToy Outreach