ASM's Curriculum Recommendations: Introductory Course in Microbiology

1994 was a milestone in ASM's sustained effort to improve undergraduate microbiology education. Faculty from institutions across the continent and across the range from community colleges through research universities defined the common ground for all introductory microbiology courses. This included the document below and endorsement of required laboratory experience. The inclusion of laboratory experience as in integral part of all microbiology courses was reaffirmed in 1997. The annual Undergraduate Microbiology Education Conferences have fostered teaching practices to enhance learning based on these guidelines, including the development of curriculum materials. Darwinian principles of evolution can provide an overarching theme to the course. The cellular structures, metabolic pathways, regulatory signals, and genetic exchange mechanisms exhibited by microorganisms at present are the products of natural selection. In addition, evolutionary processes can be observed in the microbial world today, in cases such as antibiotic resistance, xenobiotic biodegradation, and the coevolution of hosts and pathogens.

In these recommendations, the term microbes refers to all microorganisms whether they are subcellular viruses and other infectious agents or cellular including all prokaryotic and eukaryotic microbes.

Theme 1: Microbial cell biology*
     Information flow within a cell
     Regulation of cellular activities
     Cellular structure and function*
     Growth and division*
     Cell energy metabolism*

Theme 2: Microbial genetics*
     Inheritance of genetic information
     Cause, consequences and uses of mutations*
     Exchange and acquisition of genetic information

Theme 3: Interactions and impact of microorganisms and humans*
     Host defense mechanisms
     Microbial pathogenicity mechanisms*
     Disease transmission
     Antibiotics and chemotherapy*
     Genetic engineering

Theme 4: Interactions and impact of microorganisms in the environment*
     Adaption and natural selection
     Microbial recycling of resources
     Microbes transforming environment

Theme 5: Integrating Themes*
     Microbial evolution
     Microbial diversity*

*Denotes those themes and concepts considered essential to the Lab Content Core, although all of these themes and concepts may be taught through lab exercises.

Recommendations for the Introductory Microbiology Laboratory Core Curriculum

Laboratory Core Curriculum Introduction
This Laboratory Core Curriculum described below represents topics and themes considered essential to teach in every microbiology laboratory, regardless of its emphasis. An instructor might add items appropriate to allied health, applied, environmental, or majors microbiology courses.
The lab core is not meant to be a syllabus or outline. These core themes and topics are meant to frame objectives to be met somewhere within the introductory microbiology lab. Depending on the specific emphasis of a course, a single lab session could meet multiple core objectives, focus on one objective, or emphasize a topic that is not in the lab core but is important to that particular course.

Laboratory Content
Labs typically supplement and integrate closely with the lecture content in a way that is unique to each instructor. Consequently, the content that is considered essential for lab by one instructor is covered in lecture by another, making it difficult to define specific topics that should be integral in all introductory microbiology labs. However, these items in the Core Themes and Concepts for and Introductory Microbiology Course marked with an asterisk were, by consensus, considered essential to the Lab Content Core.

Laboratory Skills

A student successfully completing basic microbiology will demonstrate ability to

1. Use a bright field light microscope to view and interpret slides, including
     a. Correctly setting up and focusing the image
     b. Proper handling, cleaning, and storage of the microscope
     c. Correct use of all lenses
     d. Recording microscopic observations
2. Properly prepare slides for microbiological examination, including
     a. Cleaning and disposing of slides
     b. Preparing smears from solid and liquid cultures
     c. Performing wet mount and/or hanging drop preparations
     d. Performing Gram stains
3. Properly use aseptic techniques for the transfer and handling of microorganisms and instruments, including
     a. Sterilizing and maintaining sterility of transfer instruments
     b. Performing aseptic transfer
     c. Obtaining microbial samples
4. Use appropriate microbiological media and test systems, including
     a. Isolating colonies and/or plaques
     b. Maintaining pure cultures
     c. Using biochemical test media
     d. Accurately recording macroscopic observations
5. Estimate the number of microbes in a sample using serial dilution techniques, including
     a. Correctly choosing and using pipettes and pipetting devices
     b. Correctly spreading diluted samples for counting
     c. Estimating appropriate dilutions
     d. Extrapolating plate counts to obtain the correct CFU or PFU in the starting sample
6. Use standard microbiology laboratory equipment correctly, including
     a. Using the standard metric system for weights, lengths, diameters, and volumes
     b. Lighting and adjusting a laboratory burner
     c. Using and incubator

Laboratory Thinking Skills
A student successfully completing basic microbiology will demonstrate an increased skill level in

1. Cognitive processes, including
     a. Formulating a clear, answerable question
     b. Developing a testable hypotheses
     c. Predicting expected results
     d. Following and experiment protocol
2. Analysis skills, including
     a. Collecting and organizing data in a systematic fashion
     b. Presenting data in an appropriate from (graphs, tables, figures, or descriptive paragraphs)
     c. Assessing the validity of the data (including integrity and significance)
     d. Drawing appropriate conclusions based on the results
3. Communication skills, including
     a. Discussing and presenting lab results or findings in the laboratory
4. Interpersonal and citizenry skills, including
     a. Working effectively in teams or groups so that the task, results, and analysis are shared
     b. Effectively managing time and tasks allowing concurrent and/or overlapping tasks to be done simultaneously, by individuals and within a group
     c. Integrating knowledge and making informed judgments about microbiology in everyday life

Laboratory Safety
A student successfully completing basic microbiology will demonstrate ability to explain and practice safe

1. Microbiological procedures, including
     a. Reporting all spills and broken glassware to the instructor and receiving instructions for clean up
     b. Methods for aseptic transfer
     c. Minimizing or containing the production of aerosols and describing the hazards associated with aerosols
     d. Washing hands prior to and following laboratories and at any time contamination is suspected
     e. Using universal precautions with blood and other body fluids and following the requirements of the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogen Standard
     f. Disinfecting lab benches and equipment prior to and at the conclusion of each lab session, using and appropriate disinfectant and allowing a suitable contact time
     g. Identification and proper disposal of different types of waste
     h. Reading and signing a laboratory safety agreement indicating that the student has read and understands the safety rules of the laboratory
     i. Good lab practice, including returning materials to proper locations, proper care and handling of equipment, and keeping the bench top clear of extraneous materials
2. Protective procedures, including
     a. Tying long hair back, wearing personal protective equipment (eye protection, coats, gloves, closed shoes; glasses may be preferred to contact lenses), and using such equipment in appropriate situations
     b. Always using appropriate pipetting devices and understanding that mouth pipetting is forbidden
     c. Never eating or drinking in the laboratory
     d. Never applying cosmetics, handling contact lenses, or placing objects (fingers, pencils, ect.) in the mouth or touching the face
3. Emergency procedures, including
     a. Locating and properly using emergency equipment (eye wash stations, first aid kits, fire extinguishers, chemical safety showers, telephones, and emergency numbers)
     b. Reporting all injuries immediately to the instructor
     c. Following proper steps in the event of an emergency

 In addition, institutions where microbiology laboratories are taught will
1. Train faculty and staff in proper waste system management
2. Provide and maintain all necessary safety equipment and information resources
3. Train faculty, staff, and students in the use of safety equipment and procedures
4. Train faculty and staff in use of MSDS


1. Beneson, Adam S. (ed). 1995. Control of communicable diseases in man, 16th ed.
American Public Health Association, Washington D.C.

2. Centers for Disease Control and the National Institution of Health (CDC/NIH). 1993. Biosafety in microbiological and biomedical research laboratories, p. 177.
Government Printing Office (#017-040-00523-7), Washington D.C.

3. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health. 1997. Guidelines for research involving recombinant DNA molecules.
Federal Register, Februrary 1997.

4. Fleming et al (ed.). 1004. Laboratory safety: principles and practices, 2nd ed. ASM Press, Washington D.C.

5. World Health Organization. 1993. Laboratory biosafety manual, 2nd ed. World Health Organization, Albany, N.Y.

6. Lennox, John E. Sites related to laboratory safety.

For more information, e-mail