Microbial Life > Topics of Interest

Topics of Interest, Sample Case Studies, and Special Collections


The Topics of Interest, Special Collections, and related Case Studies listed on this page contain basic information as well as collections of general resources (such as news articles, web sites, and reference pages) and advanced resources (journal articles, academic reviews, and surveys) that support teaching and learning about microbial life. They also include materials created specifically for educators (such as activities, assignments and reading lists.) These resources can be used in a variety of class activities such as lectures, demonstrations, discussions, and student projects.

Topics of Interest


Wolbachia: One of the most common bacterial endosymbionts on the planet, Wolbachia is a genus of inherited alpha-proteobacteria that form intracellular infections in many invertebrate hosts.


Paleoclimatology - Climate Proxy Applications: Microbial life such as diatoms and foraminifera can be used as indicators of past environmental conditions and climate. Remains of these organisms can be used in conjunction with other proxy data, such as ice cores and tree rings, to interpret past climate, understand current climate, and project future climate conditions and their effects on ecosystems.


Nanobes and Nanobacteria: Nanobes and nanobacteria are controversial entities whose existence and classification as living organisms is debatable. Their small size leaves some to question whether or not an organism of this size has enough room to house necessary cell components such as DNA, RNA, and plasmids.


Squid - Vibrio: The Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes, houses a colony of luminous Vibrio fischeri in its specialized light organ to serve as anti-predatory defense. The light produced by the symbiotic bacteria is emitted downward, and the squid can manipulate the intensity of the light to match the intensity of down-welling moon and starlight, thus masking its silhouette to evade bottom-dwelling predators.


Pompeii Worm: The Pompeii worm is a deep-sea polychaete that resides in tubes near hydrothermal vents. It is able to survive extreme temperatures by forming a symbiotic relationship with the protective "fleece-like" bacteria on its back.


Tardigrades are some of the most versatile animals on Earth. Resembling miniature bears, they are adapted to survive extreme changes in the environment - such as the absence of water and high temperatures - through a process known as cryptobiosis.


Case Studies and Supporting Materials


Mono Lake: Mono Lake, located in California's Eastern Sierra, is both alkaline and hypersaline. In addition to its unusual array of alkaliphilic, halophilic, and anaerobic inhabitants, it has a remarkarble preservation success story.


Living in an Alkaline Environment is a three-part activity that explores the ecology and diversity of life in alkaline environments.


Bioinformatics: An Interactive Introduction to NCBI, an exercise designed to introduce high school and undergraduate students to modern biological techniques in the area of Bioinformatics.


Octopus Spring: Octopus Spring is a partially alkaline, low-carbonate, low-sulfur hot spring located in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. It is home to a variety of thermophiles, as well as a colorful array of microbial mat communities.


Red algal bloom at Leigh, near Cape Rodney, New Zealand. Photo by Miriam Godfrey. This photo can be found at the NIWA Science web site.
Red Tide: Red Tide is a phenomenon caused by algal blooms along coastal areas. These blooms generally discolor the waters and may cause significant problems for local biota by depleting oxgen and/or releasing toxins.


Rio Tinto: The Rio Tinto is an extremely acidic river in southern Spain. Enduring over 5000 years of mining activity, the river is full of heavy metals. Surprisingly, phylogenetic studies show the diversity of eukaryotes to be much greater than that of prokaryotes.


Satellite image of the northern Gulf of Mexico/Mississippi Delta showing hypoxic coastal water (light blue). This color change is due to excessive nutrients being washed into the sea. Source: Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC, January 2003.
The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone: The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is an area of hypoxic waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River. High nutrient load from farm and industry runoff along the Mississippi River stimulates algal blooms, which eventually deplete dissolved oxygen in the water.


Yellowstone National Park: Yellowstone National Park has over 10,000 unique geothermal features, which contain a wide and varied range of temperature, pH, and geochemical profiles. The sheer magnitude of this diversity lends it's self to scientific discovery. Join the search for Novel Thermal Viruses in Yellowstone National Park!


Yellowstone Bioprospecting: Learn about the search for useful organic compounds in Yellowstone, including the discovery of Taq Polymerase - an enzyme commonly used in molecular biology.


Protistan Tales of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps is a WebQuest that combines science and literacy to bring the microbes of Atlantic White Cedar Swamps to life. Through the use of antrhopomorphism, students develop oral and illustrated short stories dedicated to enhancing awareness of these organisms.


Bring em Back Alive is a series of activities that demonstrate various techniques for capturing free-living microbes from the environment.

Special Collections


Microbial Mining and the use of microorganisms in the mining industry.


Winogradsky columns, an excellent activity, specifically for grades 5 - 12, used to demonstrate the growth of microorganisms.