New Modules: Anaerobic Systems and Polluted Habitats

April 17, 2024 / Dr. Ilka Schwittlinsky

Starting this summer semester, the Department for Environmental Microbiology is offering two new modules, Anaerobic Systems and Polluted Habitats, both of which are available as electives to master students in the programs UMW, WASTE and WAREM. The modules are open for enrollment on C@mpus and will be offered every summer semester from now on. For more information on what the modules entail, please see below.


Anaerobic Systems

This lecture will provide a detailed overview of anaerobic systems beginning with the early Earth systems when the global oceans were anoxic and how this applies to the potential for life on other planets. Then the course will move into modern anaerobic systems in the natural world, how they function, and why they are relevant to ongoing changes to the planet. Finally, the course will apply these concepts to anaerobic technologies such as anaerobic digesters and examine how the natural world can inform future technological changes. The course will go in depth on microbial growth under anaerobic conditions, the metabolisms that are prominent, and how the energy demands differ without the presence of oxygen. The course will have in-class worksheets to ensure students are keeping up with the coursework and will be graded with a detailed presentation and final report on an anaerobic environment of the student’s choosing.

 In this course, students will

  • gain knowledge on different types of microbial metabolisms in anaerobic systems.

  • gain knowledge on both natural and human-made anaerobic systems.

  • learn how thermodynamics change under anaerobic conditions.

  • apply this knowledge to the development of a novel human-made anaerobic system or to propose a solution a global anaerobic problem like oxygen minimum zones.


Polluted Habitats

In this comprehensive module, consisting of a lecture, excursions and a practical class, students will learn the basics of fieldwork in polluted environments, with a specific emphasis on sampling and analysis methods. The lecture provides students with essential techniques for sampling and preserving various environmental components, including soil, sediment, rock, water, and human-made materials, enabling them to navigate and address pollution challenges in diverse environments. Furthermore, students will gain proficiency in conducting in-situ analyses of hydrochemical (e.g., pH, Eh, [O2], conductivity, Eh, heavy metals, etc.) and microbiological parameters (e.g., microscopy, cell count, enrichment cultures, qPCR, etc.). These skills will be crucial as students apply them during the organized excursions to contaminated habitats, including mining-impacted sites, agricultural fields, and water bodies. The practical class further enhances their knowledge by providing hands-on experience in basic methods for sampling and analyzing soil, water, sediment, rock, and human-made materials. This module ensures a complete learning experience by integrating theoretical knowledge with practical applications in environmental science and fieldwork methodologies.

In this course, students will:

  • acquire knowledge about soil and water physicochemical characteristics;

  • understand the effects of organic and inorganic pollutants on soil and aquatic environments;

  • explore the effects of organic and inorganic pollutants on soil and aquatic microbial communities;

  • learn techniques for sampling and preserving various environmental components;

  • learn methods for in-situ analyses of hydrochemical and microbiological parameters in soil and aquatic environments.

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