Mary Mulcahy & Hank Edenborn
Microbial ecology studies
provide excellent opportunities for open-ended, inquiry-based learning
in the classroom. In this workshop, we will demonstrate a laboratory exercise
in which students generate hypotheses about microbial ecology and then
test them using "EcoPlates," multiwell test plates that allow
rapid determination of the metabolic capabilities of a bacterial population
without tedious and time-consuming reagent preparation by the instructor.
After inoculation with a suspension of bacteria washed from a soil or
plant sample, the incubated plate returns a unique set of positive (purple)
and negative (clear) reactions that allows students to assess whether
or not two samples contain similar or dissimilar bacterial populations.
Our experience is that students enjoy developing their own experiments
using these plates, and that the exercise is particularly useful in illustrating
physiological diversity of microbial populations while also involving
students in the exciting process of developing their own scientific hypotheses.