On completion of the module the student should:
● Have a broad knowledge of the diversity of life forms within the eukaryotic and prokaryotic micro-organisms
● Appreciate the ways in which micro-organisms adapt to, and affect, their environment
● Be able to explain how micro-organisms interact with other organisms
● Have gained practical skills in handling micro-organisms
The module is designed as an introduction to the diversity and adaptability of micro-organisms. This module reviews the diversity of a form, the nutritional versatility and the environmental adaptability of micro-organisms.
Initially the five kingdom and three domain classifications of life forms and the place of 'micro-organisms' within such schemes are discussed. This will include a comparison of prokaryotes and eukaryotes. A brief introduction to the viruses will be included.
Next a basic introduction is given to the general features of the non-photosynthetic bacteria covering diversity of morphology, cell structure and reproduction. A review of the economic importance of bacteria follows which will cover their use in industry, e.g. pharmaceutical and food industry, and their role in plant and animal disease.
The kingdom Fungi (7 lectures) is then defined and an account of the economic importance of these micro-organisms is given. A review of the major groups of fungi, discussing their diversity of form, genetic systems and life strategies follows. Fungal growth is then discussed beginning with the hyphal tip and ending with a discussion of the organisation of the fungal mycelium. Three lectures review the adaptability of the fungi, especially their role in the production and decomposition cycles in terrestrial ecosystems and their abilities to act as pathogens of and mutualistic partners with animals and plants.
The next section of the course aims to explore the diversity of form and function in the photosynthetic micro-organisms, particularly where their photosynthetic nature distinguishes them from other groups. The photosynthetic prokaryotes (bacteria and cyanobacteria) and photosynthetic eukaryotes (algae) are introduced. A review of the economic importance of photosynthetic micro-organisms, including mass culture, food products and production of toxins follows. The photosynthetic prokaryotes are then discussed, beginning with an account of the photosynthetic systems in oxygenic and anoxygenic bacteria. Cell ultrastructure, morphology, growth and reproduction, nitrogen fixation and heterocyst function in cyanobacteria are then considered. The morphology, cell structure and reproduction of photosynthetic eukaryotic micro-organisms (algae) are reviewed next and the course ends with a discussion of the organism-organism interactions in the lichen symbiosis.
Practical classes illustrate aspects of the lecture course. Light microscopy is used to examine a range of micro-organisms. Additionally, the execution of simple experimental investigations using micro-organisms introduces the student to safe ways of handling micro-organisms and all students are expected to have acquired basic knowledge of sterile handling techniques by the end of the course. Video microscopy is extensively used to help in interpretation of the practical material. Practicals are assessed by means of tests within the practical classes.