The goal of the course is to teach professors, postdocs and advanced graduate students how to discover, cultivate, and isolate diverse microorganisms catalyzing a breadth of chemical transformations, as well as how to perform molecular and computational analyses relevant to their study.
Launched in 1971 by Holger Jannasch, the Microbial Diversity summer course at the Marine Biological Laboratory has trained generations of scientists from diverse backgrounds. The course is an intense immersion experience for 20 students that lasts 6.5 weeks. The goal of the course is to teach professors, postdocs and advanced graduate students how to discover, cultivate, and isolate diverse microorganisms catalyzing a breadth of chemical transformations, as well as how to perform molecular and computational analyses relevant to their study. While microbial isolation techniques form the essential core of the course, each new set of directors brings an additional focus that reflects their interests/expertise. We have introduced basic genetic methods to the course for the first time to enable students to study how microbes catalyze interesting reactions and exhibit interesting behaviors. In addition, we emphasize state-of-the-art imaging techniques and training in quantitative microscopy to study microbial cell biology and single-cell gene expression. Genetically-tractable strains isolated in the course are sequenced by Pacific Biosystems, and students learn how to annotate and analyze their genomes. Given the wealth of DNA, RNA and protein sequences now available from isolated microbes and environmental samples, these tools are important for students to master so they may understand what these sequences mean and in which context they are expressed—be it in the marine environment, soils, or plant and animal hosts. We also emphasize quantitative approaches to microbial diversity, including teaching students how to describe the energetic potential of diverse metabolisms. A dedicated team of resident course instructors as well as guest-lecturers participate in the course every summer, allowing students to be exposed to exciting current research. The opportunity to interact one-on-one with these individuals is a tremendous opportunity, often leading to future collaborations.