Lumber River Microbial Biodiversity

Conservation biology seeks to protect Earth’s biodiversity, but efforts are overwhelmingly focused on non-microbial forms of life. Most of the described forms of life are insects and other organisms that can be seen easily with the unaided eye. Bacteria and fungi have been poorly described — perhaps the majority of them have yet to be described by scientists. This lack of knowledge is tied to their microscopic size and to difficulties in culturing them in the laboratory. But microbes are critical for the rest of life on this planet. Microbes maintain healthy ecosystems by cycling nutrients, decomposing waste, fixing nitrogen and carbon dioxide, and regulating population sizes via disease. The goal of this collaborative project (with Dr. Lisa Kelly) is to engage Conservation Biology and Microbiology students in an investigation of the microbial biodiversity of the Lumber River. Our anticipated learning outcomes are that students will be able to (1) discuss how metagenomics can be a tool to study microbes, (2) use genomic tools to assess the microbial diversity of an environmental sample, and (3) explain threats to biodiversity and consequences of biodiversity loss. Using MinION sequencing technology, Conservation Biology and Microbiology students will sequence DNA extracted from Lumber River water and soil samples. Both classes will participate in the analysis of sequencing data and conclude the semester with presentations and discussion of results. Project pilot semester: Fall 2017.