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BIOL6085 Fluxes, Cycles and Microbial Communities

Module Overview

Microorganisms are key players in all the major biogeochemical cycles on Earth. Microbial Biogeochemistry explores the microbial influence on the biological, chemical, and geological processes that shape natural environments on our planet. This is currently an area of intense research activity given the extent to which humans have been modifying the natural world, which have potential consequences for ecosystems, the biosphere and Earth’s climate. Microorganisms have a critical role in these processes as major controllers of elemental fluxes, ecosystem functioning and as producers and consumers of major greenhouse gases. This module will introduce students to the diversity of microbial life that has been shaping our biosphere since the early beginnings of life, and that continues to shape our biosphere in the Anthropocene.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

The aim of this module is to provide an understanding of the contribution of microorganisms to the global biogeochemical cycles of elements on the planet. The module will summarise how the enormous diversity of microbial life on Earth, and the myriad ways they have evolved to capture energy, drives the fluxes and flows of elements. This will involve understanding the nature of microorganisms mediating key transformations in the global carbon, nitrogen and sulfur cycles, as well as other elements. The module will cover aspects of adaptation to extreme environments and the necessity of cooperation and symbioses.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Describe the role of microorganisms as drivers of biogeochemical cycles over Earth’s history
  • Describe the key microbial players in biogeochemical processes and explain their role in ecosystem functioning
  • Explain how metabolic processes occurring within individual microbial cells can shape the environment and the biosphere
  • Describe how oceans and forests cycle nutrients as a result of biotic and abiotic processes
  • Explain the role of microorganisms in the production and consumption of greenhouse gases
  • Understand how modern global change is influencing microbial transformations, and ecosystems as a result

Syllabus

This module examines microbial life on the planet from the origin of life to modern ecosystems. There is an emphasis on microorganisms, but we also learn about forest and ocean ecosystems. We cover microbial diversity and function and the myriad ways that microorganisms obtain energy for growth and how these drive biogeochemical cycles of elements (carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and metals). Neil Gostling: Earth history and evolution Kelvin Peh: Forests Jasmin Godbold: Oceans Marc Dumont: Microbial physiology, function and ecology

Learning and Teaching

TypeHours
Independent Study130
Teaching20
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Eugene L. Madsen (2015). Environmental Microbiology: From Genomes to Biogeochemistry. 

Assessment

Summative

MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework 20%
Essay 30%
Journal 10%
Presentation 10%
Project proposal 30%
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