The Microbes Within

A WebQuest exploring the effects of endosymbiosis on reproduction, evolution and human health

Introduction - Task - Process - Resources - Evaluation - Conclusion - Teachers


The Microbes Within leads students on a guided exploration of the alpha-proteobacterium Wolbachia and challenges them to consider the relevance of this obligate, intracellular symbiont with respect to the evolution of species, insect reproduction and human health. Students are presented with an issue of medical concern and must take advantage of modern-day research to provide persuasive advice to you, the Director of the CDC, through delivery of either a written or oral report. The activity builds upon understanding of basic biology and highlights the impact that one microbe might have on the health of millions worldwide. 


The core of this WebQuest addresses the following 9-12 National Science Education Standards: 

  • Unifying Concepts and Processes in Science: Systems, order and organization; Evidence, models and explanation; Evolution and equilibrium; Form and function
  • Content Standard C (Life Science): Biological evolution; Interdependence of organisms
  • Content Standard F (Science in Personal and Social Perspectives): Personal and community health; Science and technology in local, national, and global Challenges
  • Content Standard G (History and Nature of Science): Science as a human endeavor; Nature of scientific knowledge

Beginning the WebQuest

This WebQuest is designed for groups of three students, each fulfilling an essential role of the Wolbachia team. Each student will tackle two of the six major themes shown in the diagram below. 

  • Reproductive Specialist (Reproduction & Speciation)
  • Microbiologist (Symbiosis & Phage/Virus)
  • Epidemiologist (Human Disease & Vector Control)

Microbes Within Process Diagram Center illustration by Tamara Clark, provided courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Life .

If you prefer to have students work in pairs, you may alternatively assign the following roles: 

  • Reproductive Specialist (Reproduction, Speciation & Symbiosis)
  • Epidemiologist (Human Disease, Vector Control & Phage/Virus)

Once the class is split into groups, a formal Scoping Session is recommended in which roles are selected, duties are assigned and the evaluation rubric is introduced. Students should review the collaborative nature of the activity and discuss initial milestones and timelines. They will begin the WebQuest by exploring the general biology of Wolbachia, and will proceed to individually research their roles by answering a set of directed questions (complete with web links) from the Resources section. They may use additional resources from Microbial Life, the Encyclopedia of Life or other websites to enhance their presentation. 

The presentation may be in the form of a scientific research report and/or formal PowerPoint presentation. An evaluation rubric (Microsoft Word 45kB Sep22 08) in the form of a word document has been added for your convenience. You may download and modify as needed. It is highly recommended that evaluation procedures be discussed with students prior to beginning the WebQuest. 

Discover the Microbes Within!

Build upon your knowledge of Wolbachia and assist the scientific community in understanding its distribution through joining Discover the Microbes Within - The Wolbachia Project. This integrative lab and professional development series spans organisms to molecules and back. Teacher training, an online integrated lab series, equipment loaner program, and summer envisionships are available by contacting:

Students studying Wolbachia

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