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Culturing Life from Air: Using a Surface Air System to Introduce Discovery-Based Research in Aerobiology into the Undergraduate Biology Curriculum

    Authors: Carolyn F. Weber1,*, Jason T. Werth1
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    Affiliations: 1: Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID 83209
    AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION AUTHOR AND ARTICLE INFORMATION
    • Published 01 May 2015
    • Supplemental materials available at http://jmbe.asm.org
    • *Corresponding author. Mailing address: Department of Biological Sciences, Idaho State University, 921 S. 8th Ave, stop 8007, Pocatello, ID 83209. Phone: 208-282-2149. Fax: 208-282-4570. E-mail: webecaro@isu.edu.
    • ©2015 Author(s). Published by the American Society for Microbiology.
    Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2015 vol. 16 no. 1 72-74. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.813
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    Abstract:

    Although the field of aerobiology predates Louis Pasteur’s classic experiments in the late 19th century, the atmosphere has recently emerged as one of the last great frontiers in the field of microbiology. Recent research has demonstrated that airborne microbes are more diverse than previously thought and are metabolically active in some cases, influencing atmospheric chemistry and meteorological patterns. Furthermore, concern continues to grow regarding airborne travel of biothreat agents and emerging infectious diseases in an increasingly global society. Despite the increased recognition of the atmosphere as a frontier for microbiological exploration in both basic and applied sciences, students are generally not exposed to this field of research in the undergraduate biology curriculum. We describe the use of the Surface Air System (SAS) SUPER 180 (Bioscience International, Rockville, MD), an extremely rugged, easy-to-use, portable and nearly maintenance-free instrument that impacts defined volumes of air directly onto petri dishes to facilitate the study of culturable airborne microorganisms. We successfully employed this instrument in a Biology I course in which freshmen, with no prior research experiences, conducted discovery-based research that produced data that was presented at a national meeting and made a genuine contribution to the field of aerobiology. We also describe how such discovery-based research experiences in aerobiology can be used as a platform for teaching core biological concepts and basic laboratory skills.

Key Concept Ranking

Selective Media
0.5441769
Petri Dish
0.48798475
Signalling Pathway
0.4807031
Carbon Sources
0.42811903
Air
0.412829
0.5441769

References & Citations

1. American Association for the Advancement of Science2011Vision and change in undergraduate biology education: a call to action[Online.] http://visionandchange.org/finalreport/. Accessed 18 July 2014.
2. American Society for Microbiology2012Guidelines for Biosafety in Teaching Laboratories[Online.] http://www.uab.cat/doc/teaching_lab_ASM. Accessed 3 September 2014.
3. Bioscience International[Online.] http://www.biosci-intl.com. Accessed 18 July 2014.
4. DeLeon-Rodriguez N, et al2013Microbiome of the upper troposphere: species composition and prevalence, effects of tropical storms, and atmospheric implicationsProc Natl Acad Sci USA11072575258010.1073/pnas.1212089110233597123574924 http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1212089110
5. Morris CE, et al2011Microbiology and atmospheric processes: research challenges concerning the impact of airborne micro-organisms on the atmosphere and climateBiogeosciences8172510.5194/bg-8-17-2011 http://dx.doi.org/10.5194/bg-8-17-2011
6. Polymenakou P2012Atmosphere: a source of pathogenic or beneficial microbes?Atmosphere387102
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/content/journal/jmbe/10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.813
2015-05-01
2017-11-18

Abstract:

Although the field of aerobiology predates Louis Pasteur’s classic experiments in the late 19th century, the atmosphere has recently emerged as one of the last great frontiers in the field of microbiology. Recent research has demonstrated that airborne microbes are more diverse than previously thought and are metabolically active in some cases, influencing atmospheric chemistry and meteorological patterns. Furthermore, concern continues to grow regarding airborne travel of biothreat agents and emerging infectious diseases in an increasingly global society. Despite the increased recognition of the atmosphere as a frontier for microbiological exploration in both basic and applied sciences, students are generally not exposed to this field of research in the undergraduate biology curriculum. We describe the use of the Surface Air System (SAS) SUPER 180 (Bioscience International, Rockville, MD), an extremely rugged, easy-to-use, portable and nearly maintenance-free instrument that impacts defined volumes of air directly onto petri dishes to facilitate the study of culturable airborne microorganisms. We successfully employed this instrument in a Biology I course in which freshmen, with no prior research experiences, conducted discovery-based research that produced data that was presented at a national meeting and made a genuine contribution to the field of aerobiology. We also describe how such discovery-based research experiences in aerobiology can be used as a platform for teaching core biological concepts and basic laboratory skills.

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FIGURE 1.

The SAS SUPER 180 is a rugged, portable, user-friendly instrument that facilitates air sample collection in almost any location. (a) young scientists collecting air samples on the roof of a three-story building in Pocatello, ID; (b) side view of the SAS SUPER 180; (c) back-lit screen and interface for programming collection volume and delayed starts; (d) stainless steel aspiration head; (e) standard 90-mm petri plate with agar medium clipped in place for air sample collection.

Source: J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. May 2015 vol. 16 no. 1 72-74. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.813
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