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Geosc 409W

Why study geomicrobiology?
Microorganisms evolved soon after the Earth cooled sufficiently to allow liquid water, and were the Earth's sole inhabitants for the first three quarters of its history. Symbiotic interactions among microorganisms gave rise relatively recently to the plants and animals that populate the familiar, macroscopic world. Free-living microorganisms continue to dominate the global cycling of many elements on the planet in the present day. They are central players (after humans) in the production and consumption of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrogen dioxide. Last but not least, microorganisms provide human societies with essential services such as pollutant biodegradation, metal ore extraction, nitrogen fixation, water purification, and the maintenance of soil fertility.

Geomicrobiologists aim to understand microbial interactions with earth materials including rocks, sediments, the atmosphere, soils, nutrients, and pollutants. Current geomicrobiology research builds on a long tradition (beginning with Beijerinck and Winogradsky in the late 1800s), and has led in the past decade to a radically expanded view of microbial diversity and activity in the environment. Geomicrobiologists make use of techniques and ideas drawn from many areas of chemistry, geology, biology and ecology. There is significant cross-fertilization between geomicrobiology and fields such as astrobiology (the study of life in the universe), the origin of life, paleobiology, nanoscience, soil science, limnology, oceanography, global climate change, medical microbiology, and environmental engineering.

This course will explore how microorganisms shape earth's geochemistry and environment, both in the present day and over geologic time scales. Major topics include:
redox chemistry,
the diversity of microbial lifestyles,
the consequences of microbial diversity and activity in natural environments,
the microbial role in global element and greenhouse gas cycling,
life in extreme environments, and
the co-evolution of the earth and biosphere.
Other topics may include microbiological and geochemical methods for studying microorganisms, microbial phylogeny (evolutionary relationships), microbial biomineralization (mineral precipitation), microbial influences on mineral dissolution/weathering, and pollutant biodegradation. Students who have completed the course will be familiar with the basic physics, chemistry, biology, and ecology concepts necessary to understand and predict microbial behavior in the earth environment.

Course Website: Registered students should access the course website at this link (password required).

Sampling a stratified lake with chemistry analogous to ancient oceans.
  Metal oxidizing bacteria.

Enrichment cultures prepared by geomicrobiology students.


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