Diversity, Function, and Molecular Ecology of Microorganisms

Bachelor Teaching Project: Diversity, Function, and Molecular Ecology of Microorganisms

Since microbial ecology is based on complex, microbiological and molecular biological methods and requires (bio)chemical and physiological knowledge, it comes across as abstract and difficult to many students especially at an early stage of their curriculum. This teaching project consisting of four courses (two lectures, one laboratory course, one seminar with field trips) aims to provide Bachelor's students with an understanding of the working methods and selected key findings of microbial ecology, as well as the importance of these results for a more sustainable future.

In all four courses, scientific results and the underlying methods are presented in the context of real scientific research and practical applications. A main goal is that students learn how to apply approaches of molecular microbial ecology to solve scientific problems in this field. This is practiced at different levels such as quizzes and discussion sessions in the lectures, working on own environmental samples in the laboratory course, and in-depth analysis of published studies in seminars. At all stages, students are strongly encouraged to interact with the lecturers/instructors in Q&A sessions and discussion rounds, which address the topics of the lectures and seminars as well as the outcome of lab experiments.

At present, the teaching project comprises the following courses:

Lecture "Biodiversität und molekulare Ökologie der Mikroorganismen 1"

This lecture familiarizes the students with the basics of molecular biological methods in microbial ecology. These techniques are used to detect and identify uncultured microorganisms and to measure the abundance of microbes in environmental and medical samples. Potential sources of bias and limitations of the methods are also addressed. The various topics are explained using published scientific studies as examples. An extraordinarily large amount of time is allocated for Q&A sessions and joint discussion of the lecture content to ensure that students gain maximal benefit from this introductory lecture, which is particularly rich in new content and facts.

Lecture "Biodiversität und molekulare Ökologie der Mikroorganismen 2"

This lecture builds on part 1 but focuses more on the ecological functions of microorganisms in selected natural and technical systems. Each chapter starts with the discovery of new microorganisms and is then gradually deepened to the discoveries of what functions these new microorganisms have and how this is relevant for highly topical issues and applications (environmental and climate protection, medical progress). Additional molecular biological and chemical-physical techniques are explained, the use of which made the research results possible in the first place. Thus, students learn new methodology in the context of concrete research questions. The lecture is enriched with Q&A sessions and live quizzes that provide student with feedback on their current level of knowledge and competence.

Laboratory course "Fluoreszenz-In-Situ-Hybridisierung (FISH)"

In this lab course, students apply some of the key molecular techniques in microbial ecology. The two-week block exercise consists of in-depth lectures on these methods, laboratory practice, and a seminar. At the beginning of the practical part, students bring their own samples (e.g. pond water, aquarium water, food samples, etc.). These samples are individually processed in the practical course to identify and microscopically detect microorganisms. Thus, students get training in the background and use of key techniques by applying them to an individual scientific question. Students also prepare a written protocol of their experiments, including citations and bibliography, and thus practice writing a scientific text according to Good Scientific Practice guidelines. In the seminar, students give short presentations on thematically relevant published research. The presented studies are then discussed with the other participants and instructors.

Seminar „Mikrobiologische Exkursionen“ 

This seminar links the content of the lectures and lab course with practical applications. Based on selected publications, students carry out literature research on topics with relevance to applications and present those in seminar talks. The presented topics are discussed together with the other participants and instructors, and students get detailed feedback on their presentations with regard to content, style, and possible optimizations. In line with the seminar topics, one-day excursions to companies and institutions take place to provide students with insights into the practice of microbiological applications. 


This teaching project is designed and implemented by Holger Daims, Matthias Horn, and Alexander Loy.