BSc Molecular Biology with a Modern Language / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Microbes, Humankind and the Environment

Course unit fact file
Unit code BIOL10532
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Microbes, extremely diverse both in form and in function, play a critical role in the global ecosystem. You will explore how these organisms evolved from more primitive lifeforms to colonise new environmental niches. You will study their interactions with plants, animals and insects and how they impact on our everyday lives.


To investigate the diversity of form and function of microbes in relation to environmental niches. To consider the breadth of microbial interactions with other organisms in the ecosystem and the impact of those interactions on human affairs.

Learning outcomes

Students will understand how microbes evolved structurally and metabolically from primitive organisms diversifying into new niches. Students will appreciate the breadth of microbes and their critical role in the global ecosystem and understand how microbes form associations and interactions with plants, animals and insects, and how these associations continue to impact on our everyday lives.


Microbial evolution and nutrition

  • The origin of life, phylogeny, evolution of bacteria, Archaea and fungi
  • Evolution of microbes into diversifying ecosystems
  • Diversity of energy-generating systems of microbes.
  • Microbial structure, replication and motility
  • Bacterial replication, structure, adhesion, motility and growth
  • Fungal replication, yeasts, moulds and spores
  • Diversity of viruses and viral replication.

Microbes in the environment

  • Carbon cycling in the ecosystem. Brown rots and white rot fungi
  • Nitrogen cycling in the ecosystem. Ammonification, nitrification and de-nitrification.

Microbial partnerships

  • Microbial associations with plant roots. Legumes, rhizobia and nitrogen fixation. Mycorrhizal associations with plant roots, from trees to orchids
  • Microbial associations with animals and insects. Ruminants and hind gut fermenters. Cellulose digestion, methanogens and chytrids. Termites and leaf cutter ants.

Microbes as pathogens

  • Human-microbe interactions
  • Introduction to bacterial pathogenicity
  • Bacterial exotoxins and endotoxins as virulence factors
  • Viral diseases of man
  • Epidemiology; the spread of disease through the population
  • Microbial pathogens of plants and insects. Colonisation and invasion strategies
  • Viral diseases of man. Antimicrobials and targets
  • Antibiotics; targets and modes of action
  • Emergence and mechanism of antibiotic resistance

Microbial Biotechnology

  • Microbes and food. Use of microbes in food and beverage production. Food spoilage and toxins
  • Exploitation of natural microbial communities in the treatment of sewage
  • Exploitation of bacteria for plant transformation for the production of genetically modified crops
  • Use of bacterial toxins and resistance genes for novel pest and weed control

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Students may have the opportunity to develop these skills through eLearning exercises which contribute towards 5% of the unit mark.
Problem solving
Students may have the opportunity to develop these skills through eLearning exercises which contribute towards 5% of the unit mark.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 5%
Written exam 95%

95% awarded for a one hour examination which includes 50 MCQs, in the semester 2 examination period, and 5% awarded for eLearning exercises.

Feedback methods

Feedback is through eLearning modules running throughout the unit.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 1
Lectures 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 77

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Nicola High Unit coordinator

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