August 27th was the first day of my latest Microbiology course, and I was excited and a little nervous. I have been teaching undergraduates at small liberal arts institutions for about 16 years now, so I should not be nervous...but I was. Yet excited! I truly do love teaching this course.
Here are my 24 young minds to bend to Microbial Supremacy!
As usual, SO much to tell the students, and a limited time to do so. Sigh. So I try to focus on overarching themes and truly fascinating "new" developments in the field. Think of a tree with many pretty branches? I tend to be a bit (well, more than a bit) flamboyant when I teach, so I'm betting I will have to win some folks over a bit.
It was a short session: I introduced the course, discussed requirements, and then gave the students a short multiple choice test to measure what they knew coming into my course. That is intrinsically interesting, of course, but it is great to see them do much better at the end of the course; learning occurred! I'm sure this class will be no different.
In any event, I gave them some microbially-themed candy to "sweeten" the test taking:
Kind of fun, and part of my master plan to propagandize my students into sharing my deep belief in Microbial Supremacy. Besides, chocolate is made via microbial fermentation!
I did ask the students to describe some of the basic information they knew about microbiology. I was delighted to learn that several students were aware that Taq polymerase, used in ubiquitous PCR, was made from Thermus aquaticus. I went on to tell them that Thermus can be isolated not simply from hot springs at Yellowstone National Park, but also from hot water heaters! Because I find the people involved in microbiology interesting, I reminded my captive audience that Thomas Brock isolated Thermus aquaticus from Yellowstone...with the help of an undergraduate student named Hudson Freeze.
"Hudson Freeze." If that isn't a super villain's name, I don't know what is! Dr. Freeze (there it goes again) is actually a nice fellow; I met him years ago in San Diego, where he did cancer research.
Discussion of moderate extremophiles like Thermus is useful in promoting an idea that is critical to me: ecophysiology. To me, this word relates the environment in which the organism lives to its biochemistry, ultrastructure, and genetics. Thus, enzymes isolated from Thermus work best at elevated temperatures. Later on, we will discuss temperature and membrane structure, and for similar reasons. Darwin's dead Hand is always upon us!
All in all, it was a good day. I enjoyed seeing the faces (so grown up compared to their university photographs online) associated with the names. Having some nice discussions. They seemed okay with my feelings about the primacy of the microbial, though I probably take it a bit too far:
"Here I come to save the day!" yells Mighty Microbe!
(artwork by Alena Golubkova, a former Microbiology student of mine)
I look forward to lab this week, and getting deeper into microbiology!