ASM's Curriculum Recommendations: Microbiology Majors Program

Recommendations for conceptual knowledge, recommended core and elective courses, and laboratory skills and safety as well as issues for further action and discussion.

Neil R. Baker - Chair Undergraduate Education Committee of ASM

In an effort to provide guidance in the education of undergraduate students in microbiology, the ASM has developed a set of curriculum guidelines for microbiology majors. The guidelines are not meant to be a set of criteria for accreditation of a program. Rather they are meant to be used by programs in their own assessment, maintenance, and formation of strong programs in microbiology. The recommendations assume a semester-based academic calendar. The lists are presented as courses for simplicity. We are not making a specific recommendation about how a program is structured. You may, for example, decide to integrate the equivalent content material into several courses rather than offer them each as individual defined units.

Conceptual Knowledge and Recommended Courses
The list of core courses (Box 1) is composed of courses recommended by all groups. The inclusion of laboratories, or their equivalents as perhaps separate labs, for the core courses (except the Capstone course) is highly recommended. The list of elective courses (Box 2) includes courses placed in this category by all groups, as well as some courses that were included in the core list by at least one group. The supporting courses that should be included in a program of study are shown in Box 3.

  • Box 1. Core Courses for Microbiology Majors
    • Introduction to Microbiology (with lab)
    • Microbial Physiology (with lab)
    • Microbial Genetics (with lab)
    • Microbial Diversity and Ecology (with lab)
    • One advanced course that includes laboratory
    • Capstone course (e.g., senior seminar presentation, independent research project, internship)
  • Box 2. Suggested List of Elective Courses for Microbiology Majors
    • Immunology
    • Pathogenic Microbiology
    • Food and Dairy Microbiology
    • Environmental Microbiology
    • Marine Microbiology
    • Industrial and Applied Microbiology
    • Biotechnology
    • Bioinformatics
    • Virology & other accellular agents
    • Parasitology/Protozoology
    • Mycology
    • Phycology
    • Epidemiology
    • Public Health
    • Undergraduate research and internship
    • Careers in Microbiology (see text)
    • Bioethics (see text)
  • Box 3. Support Courses for Microbiology Majors
    • General Biology with lab (1 year)
    • Cell and molecular biology
    • General Chemistry with lab
    • Organic Chemistry with lab
    • Biochemistry (1 semester)
    • Math (through calculus)
    • Physics (1 year)
    • Statistics (1 semester)
    • Scientific Writing and Technical Communication (see text)

Two of the elective courses (Bioethics and Careers in Microbiology) could be integrated into core course material to ensure exposure of all students to the topics. Many students seem to lack a clear understanding of career choices in microbiology. More emphasis needs to be placed on educating the students about the opportunities available to them as microbiologists and how to get there. Bioethics is extremely important, especially today because it applies to all areas in biology, thus inclusion of a course as an elective in any biology program is appropriate.

RECOMMENDED Laboratory Skills
In addition to the core courses, the groups developed a list of skills thought to be important for the microbiology major. These include general laboratory skills (e.g., microscopy, media preparation, anaerobic technique, use of diagnostics), and communication skills (both oral and written) as recommended for the introductory microbiology course in 1997. Please refer to Box 4 for a list of the recommended laboratory skills in the introductory microbiology course.

The working groups recommended additional skills for a majors program. Intermediate computing skills (word processing and presentation to spread sheet) are assumed, but the use of computers in genome analysis and bioinformatics should be included as an integral part the core courses. Clearly an elective course in bioinformatics should be available. Finally, basic research skills are necessary for anyone majoring in the microbiological sciences.

  • Box 4. Laboratory Skills in Introductory Microbiology (1997)
    Laboratory Skills. A student successfully completing basic microbiology will demonstrate ability in
    1. Using a bright field light microscope to view and interpret slides, including
      a. Correctly setting up and focusing the microscope
      b. Proper handling, cleaning, and storage of the microscope
      c. Correctly using all lenses
      d. Recording microscopic observations
    2. Properly preparing 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. Using properly 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. Using appropriate microbiological media and test systems, including
      a. Isolating colonies and/or plaques
      b. Maintaining pure cultures
      c. Using biochemical test media
      d. Recording accurately macroscopic observations
    5. Estimating the number of microbes in a sample using serial dilution techniques, including
      a. Choosing and using correctly pipettes and pipetting devices
      b. Spreading correctly diluted samples for counting
      c. Estimating appropriate dilutions
      d. Extrapolating plate counts to obtain the correct CFU or PFU in the starting sample
    6. Using 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 an 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 hypothesis
      c. Predicting expected results
      d. Following an experimental protocol
    2. Analytical skills, including
      a. Collecting and organizing data in a systematic fashion
      b. Presenting data in an appropriate form (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. Identifying methods of 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 an appropriate disinfectant and allowing a suitable contact time
      g. Identifying 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. Practicing good lab practices, 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. Using always 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, etc.) 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 stream 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

Issues for Further Action and/or Discussion
A major problem noted was time and resources. The list is long and it is not possible to fit all of these courses into a 4-year program nor are all courses appropriate for all students. A critical component to this issue may be in getting the students into the major early. The Introduction to Microbiology course should be designed so that it can be taken no later than the fourth semester (end of second year) of study. This will allow for two years of advanced study of microbiology.

Another issue is the recommendation that the core courses all have labs. However, laboratory courses are cost-intensive. How can departments with limited resources deal with this resource problem? One suggestion is to offer a two-semester sequence of independent lab courses that teach the skills needed to be a microbiologist rather than offer a lab with every course. This may reduce the current recommendation of five lab courses in the core curriculum to two semesters of independent lab courses that cover the basic skills and one advanced course with laboratory.

Please review the proposed guidelines and provide us with feedback. I know that as a department currently in the process of redefining our curriculum for majors, information on program expectation is extremely valuable.