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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Marie Clair Horner-Devine
FISH 221
Seattle Campus

Ecology and Evolution of the Microbe

Explores microbial diversity, hands-on methods, microbes as agents of disease, where microbes fit in the ecosystem, extreme environments and microbes, and microbes as the start of life.

Class description

This course is for UW or COFS honors students OR students in SAFS or Ocean who have a 3.3 gpa and are interested in possibly doing departmental honors. Preference is given to freshman and sophomores. If this description fits you, contact the Honors program or the SAFS Student Services Officer (ssosafs@uw.edu). Microbes are the oldest, most abundant and diverse group of organisms on Earth. In this course students will gain an understanding of the fundamentals of ecology and evolution by exploring the role of microbes in disease, ecosystem functioning and extreme environments.

We will begin with an introduction to the incredible diversity of microbes and methods used to study these communities of tiny organisms. The rest of the quarter will be comprised of three units:

1) Microbes and disease: We will explore the current understanding of the role that microbial species and communities play in diseases of humans, plants and animals.

2) Microbes and ecosystems: Next, we will explore the role that microbes play in the functioning of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. We will then examine the impact that anthropogenic changes, such as invasive species and climate change, have on microbial community structure and function.

3) Early evolution and microbes at the extremes: We will investigate the ability of microorganisms to live in extreme environments such as deep sea vents, geothermal hotsprings, Antarctic ice and possibly on other planets as well as what insights we can gain about early evolution.

The course will be comprised of lectures, team presentations, discussions and an independent poster project. The readings in this course are key to developing a strong foundation for learning to think like a scientist and for the poster project. Basic microbiology concepts will be covered by selected readings from the textbook "Brock Biology of Microorganisms." Primary literature and secondary source articles (posted on the class website and handed out in class) will provide examples of the state of current research on these topics. Reading discussions will be presented and facilitated by teams of students.

Student learning goals

Assess the validity of scientific statements made in newspaper articles and other secondary sources

Critically read a scientific paper and identify unanswered questions

Evaluate the potential role of microbial ecology and evolution in medical and environmental issues

Synthesize research addressing a question in microbial ecology and evolution and propose the next steps for researchers

General method of instruction

To meet these objectives, the course will be comprised of lectures, team presentations, discussions and an independent poster project. The readings in this course are key to developing a strong foundation for learning to think like a scientist and for the poster project. Basic microbiology concepts will be covered by selected readings from the textbook "Brock Biology of Microorganisms." Primary literature and secondary source articles (posted on the class website and handed out in class) will provide examples of the state of current research on these topics. Reading discussions will be presented and facilitated by teams of students.

Lectures and discussions about assigned readings will introduce microbial diversity, microbiology techniques and how these are related to our understanding of disease, ecosystems and life in extreme environments. Guest lecturers will give informal talks on topics that highlight the connections among microbiology, the environment, and human health. They will also discuss how they identified research questions and formed their own research programs.

A second component of the course will be devoted to independent projects that apply our critical thinking skills to outstanding issues or problems in microbial ecology and evolution. The projects might address how microbial communities are related to topics such as heavy metal tolerance / antibiotic resistance, agricultural or wildlife disease, human disease, bioterrorism, nutrient cycling, sewage treatment, environmental toxins, restoration or climate change.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Marie Clair Horner-Devine
Date: 10/26/2011