I, Microbiologist: A Discovery-Based Course in Microbial Ecology and Molecular Evolution

Authors: Erin R. Sanders1, Jeffrey H. Miller2
Affiliations: 1: Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California; 2: Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics University of California, Los Angeles Los Angeles, California
Content Type: Textbook
Format: Paperback
Publication Year: 2010

Category: Best-Selling Textbook; General Interest

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From hypothesis to discovery, I, Microbiologist enables students to develop all the basic skills and experience all the wonderment of conducting a meaningful research project from start to finish-all within a one-semester laboratory course. Specifically, students learn to reconstruct the phylogeny of a unique soil-based microbial community by analyzing 16S rRNA genes. In the process, students discover new microbes, novel sequences, and previously unknown phenotypes.

Each of the text’s seven units features experimental protocols and essential background information, giving students the tools and context needed to formulate hypotheses, conduct experiments, and gather data. Written assignments associated with the readings for each unit challenge students to analyze experimental data, interpret results, and evaluate conclusions. This coursework gives students an opportunity to practice scientific process skills that can be applied to their own projects. As their research progresses, students master basic techniques in microbiology, molecular biology, and bioinformatics, learning how to troubleshoot problems that typically arise in collaborative investigations.

This text was written for undergraduate courses in microbiology, microbial ecology, molecular evolution of microbes, and microbial genomics. The entire research project can be completed in as few as 10 weeks, with students divided into groups and with tasks divided among group members. In short, this text gives students an unparalleled experience, preparing them to take on research projects in any working lab.

  • Features detailed, well constructed experimental protocols that enable students to generate results in a short period of time
  • Develops the skills that students need to initiate, conduct, and interpret the results of actual research projects
  • Gives students valuable experience using contemporary methods to evaluate scientific hypotheses and communicate results
  • Offers a unique, hands-on approach that emphasizes experimentation and critical thinking to learn core concepts in microbial genomics, microbial ecology, and molecular evolution
  • Underscores the value of developing working relationships with other scientists
  • Builds an appreciation and understanding of the ubiquity of microbes and the great diversity of the microbial world

For more on the book and information on requesting an examination copy please visit http://www.asmscience.org/instructors

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The Quarterly Review of Biology

21 September 2013

The authors clearly state their primary objective by asking a question: “What is the extent of bacterial diversity in terrestrial ecosystems?” (p. xi). This question sets the tone for the book’s entire contents, with all of its applications and experiments in the context of an upper-division lecture and laboratory course in microbiology. They target undergraduate biology majors who “have a strong biology background” (p. xii) and some prior laboratory experience. One high-priority goal of the volume is to introduce students to the real nature of doing science in the life sciences. In other words, the authors seriously want students to engage in science as a dynamic process of asking a key question, researching the primary literature, then designing and executing experiments, followedby critical data analyses and interpretations. The authors’ solution to the pedagogical problem of having undergraduates do “real” science in atypical 14-week semester is to have them (12–18students organized into groups of four)-pursue a single, focused project in probing the microbial diversity of a soil sample taken from a local source. How well have they accomplished these goals with conceptual and experimental activities spread out over seven units and 34 detailed experiments in this microbiology textbook?

Yes, the authors have made the required connections among the volume’s many very fine and well-presented (superb artwork, for example) features to ensure that students not only learn the basics of modern microbiology, but also engage them in a dynamical, scientific experience that at least approximates to a good degree “real-world” science. It might also provide a highly effective, nearly “turnkey” means for instructors to offer a laboratory-driven instead of textbook-driven course in microbiology. The “seamless” lecture-laboratory course with truly effective integration of concepts and experimental practices seems all too elusive in so many science courses and textbooks, but this volume comes very close to accomplishing this ideal quest. In addition, the last two units on bioinformatics of sequenced ribosomal RNA genes assumes no prior background, and presents some of the best and most understandable perspectives on pairwise sequence comparisons, multiple sequence alignments, and phylogenetic tree -
constructions that I have seen recently.

The strengths of this textbook come from: its overall organization, including many references, key terms, and problem sets; very attractive figures, diagrams, flowcharts, and pictures; detailed but not overwhelming experimental protocols; and detailed but not overwhelming introductions to the units, some (three of seven) with reading assignments from the primary literature (so it progressively moves from conceptual expositions, with very helpful “overviews,” to more detailed information leading to protocol-driven experiments). I highly recommend this unique textbook for any upper-level, general (nonmedical) undergraduate microbiology course.

The Quarterly Review of Biology

Reviewer: Chet S. Fornari, Biology and Biochemistry Program, DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana

Review Date: June 2012

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