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Natural Sciences Education Abstract - Articles

An Exercise to Demonstrate Soil Microbial Diversity in Introductory Environmental Science Classrooms


This article in NSE

  1. Vol. 37 No. 1, p. 53-58
    Received: Oct 12, 2007

    * Corresponding author(s): stephanie.yarwood@oregonstate.edu
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  1. Stephanie A. Yarwood *a and
  2. Elizabeth W. Sulzmanb
  1. a Microbiology Dep., Oregon State Univ., Nash 220, Corvallis, OR 97331
    b (deceased), Crop and Soil Science Dep., Oregon State Univ., 3017 ALS Bldg, Corvallis, OR 97331


High diversity of microorganisms in the soil matrix has been the focus of extensive research in the fields of soil biology and microbial ecology, and is a key concept that students in the environmental or biological sciences should understand. Two activities to demonstrate diversity and highlight the challenges faced in studying soil microbial diversity are presented here. Using a bag (soil sample) containing different candy types (soil microbes), students explore isolation and molecular techniques, two strategies used in studying microbial diversity, and are asked to consider the limitations these methods have in understanding complex microbial communities. In a second activity students use this collection of candy to construct mock-phylogenetic trees. These hands-on activities provide students with a fun way to learn about microbial diversity. Student assessment scores increased by 35% after participating in these activities and results from final exam questions show that a high percentage of studentsretained the major concepts demonstrated during these activities.

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