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MB109: Microbiology and Cellular Biophysics

This course introduces students to the study of microbial life from five standpoints:  physiology, genetics, molecular biology, infectious disease, and biophysics.  We will explore these perspectives on microbiology through intensive hands-on laboratory work combined with lectures, discussion, small group work, and individualized library research.

During Block 1, students will learn the basic vocabulary of microbiology as well as the foundational skills necessary for studying bacteria in the laboratory. Examples of topics covered include the origins of life on Earth, the isolation and cultivation of bacteria, the structure of bacterial cells, bacterial lifestyles and bacterial genetics. We will also cover selected topics in biophysics including the physics behind various types of microscopy.

During Block 2, students will use the foundations gained in Block 1 to work on a research project in collaboration with the course professors. Prof. Lang is a physics professor with expertise in microscopy and Prof. Lostroh is a biology professor with expertise in microbiology.  Using their combined expertise, they collaborate on a research project to image the shape and surface features of native and mutant bacteria in order to study bacterial competence.  Competence is one way bacteria import genetic material through their cell walls, incorporate it into their genomes, and then express traits from those genes.  Competent bacteria are expected to exhibit surface features enabling the gene importation but these features have never been observed.  The research project focuses on observing and characterizing these features using atomic force microscopy (AFM).

Students in this course will prepare bacterial samples and then image them with an atomic force microscope (AFM) as part of this ongoing research project.  Students in the course will participate in all aspects of the research including planning their experiments, keeping a rigorous lab notebook, preparing the samples, taking data on them, analyzing the data and presenting their results in a poster or report.  So in addition to teaching the biological and microscopy methods, the course will serve as an introduction to the processes of scientific research.  Exemplary students may have the opportunity to continue working on this research during subsequent summers or school years.

On a typical day in block 1, the class will meet for morning lecture/discussion and for afternoon laboratory work. On a typical day in block 2, students will have assigned laboratory times and bi-weekly course meetings.  Writing assignments will include short papers in response to course readings and thorough laboratory reports that emphasize critical thinking and integration of laboratory work with materials from lecture/discussion. Students will improve their verbal communication skills through short in-class exercises and a formal oral presentation of a two-block library research project.