Microbes are everywhere! They are the unseen force that rules our planet – present, past and future. Ingenious tiny master chemists too small to see by naked eye yet so powerful and resilient they can survive even the most extreme places on our planet – boiling hot, freezing cold, bone-dissolving acid, the vacuum of space! This course dives into the myriad ways microbes impact our lives and that of our planet. Major themes include, but are not limited to:

  1. The pervasive and ubiquitous nature of microbes on our planet – their metabolic needs, capabilities and impact, and the mind-boggling range of spatial and temporal scales at work at the interface of Life and Earth.
  2. The co-evolution of the biosphere and geosphere – the origin and early history of life on Earth, biological diversity and relatedness, and the central role of microbes in major events throughout Earth’s history.
  3. The interplay between microbes and their natural habitats – microbial ecology, life in extreme environments and the limits of life, diversity of habitats, symbioses between microbes and higher organisms.
  4. Microbes as a force for change – the challenges and opportunities that microbes bring to the 21st century, applied and biotechnological aspects of the microbial world such as bioremediation, food and beverage production, drug discovery and the human microbiome.

Course Description

This course examines how microorganisms shape the world around us, both throughout Earth’s history and today. Major topics include the origin and evolution of life, the awesome abilities of microbial life, the interplay between microbes and their environments, roles of microbes in global change, and applications of microbiology in biotechnology and energy.

We invite you to learn why microbes play such a crucial role in the functioning of Earth’s ecosystems, how these tiny forces affect our everyday lives and have shaped our planet's history over much of its existence, and what we can do to employ these master chemists towards solving today’s challenges in energy, global change and human health.