COVID-19 information and resources
Douglas College wordmark
Facebook logo Twitter logo Instagram logo Snapchat logo YouTube logo Wordpress logo
back to search

Environmental Microbiology

Course Code: BIOL 3403
Faculty: Science & Technology
Department: Biology
Credits: 5.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture, Lab
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

This course will introduce students to the field of environmental microbiology, which is the study of microbes in natural environments such as soil, water and air. Investigation will focus on microbial distribution, diversity, physiology, biochemistry, function and ecology along with commonly employed microbiology methods. Topical issues in environmental microbiology will also be discussed, including biotechnology and bioremediation.

Course Content

1. Introduction

  • History of environmental microbiology

  • Survey of organisms (prokaryotes, eukaryotes, viruses and other microbiological entities)

  • Review of microbial growth (batch culture, continuous cultures, growth in the environment)

2. Earth environments

  • Environmental conditions

  • Factors affecting survival

  • Survey of environments (surface, deep soil and sediments)

3. Aeromicrobiology

  • Environmental conditions

  • Factors affecting survival

  • Survey of environments (external and internal aerial environments)

  • Controls of bioaerosols

4. Aquatic microbiology

  • Environmental conditions

  • Factors affecting survival

  • Survey of environments (marine, freshwater, groundwater)

5. Microbiology of extreme environments

  • Environmental conditions

  • Factors affecting survival

  • Survey of environments (low and high temperature, desiccation, UV light, aphotic environments with chemolithoautotrophy)

6. Methods for detection, enumeration and identification of microbes

  • Sample collection and processing (soil, sediments, water and air)

  • Microscopy (light, fluorescence, transmission electron, scanning electron)

  • Culturing (isolation, plating, methods specific for bacteria, fungi, cyanobacteria, algae and viruses)

  • Physiological methods (measuring microbial activity, carbon respiration, radiolabeled tracers, enzyme assays, stable isotopes)

  • Immunological methods (fluorescent immunolabeling, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, western immunoblotting)

  • Nucleic acids (obtaining nucleic acids, hybridization, amplification, fingerprinting, recombinant DNA and sequence analysis)

7. Bioinformatics and genomics

  • Metagenomics

  • Transcriptomics

  • Proteomics

  • Metabolomics

  • Bioinformatics

8. Biogeochemical cycling

9. Microbial food webs dynamics

10. Microbial communities and communication (quorum sensing, etc.)

11. Applications of environmental microbiology (some of the following topics will be covered)

  • Environmentally transmitted pathogens

  • Indicator microorganisms

  • Wastewater treatment/disinfection

  • Remediation of organic and metal pollutants

  • Agricultural uses of microbes

  • Emerging microbial uses

12. Laboratory techniques

  • Laboratory operations and safety

  • Laboratory reporting techniques

  • Aseptic techniques

  • Isolation of environmental microbes from soil, water and air (sampling, collecting, culturing)

  • Enumeration of environmental microbes from soil, water and air (e.g. microscopy, plating, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, coliforms as indicator organisms)

  • Identification of environmental microbes from soil, water and air (biochemical tests, polymerase chain reaction, sequence analysis)

  • Determination of  environmental microbial function (analysis of carbon metabolism, enzyme assays)

  • Assessment of degradation of hydrocarbons

Methods of Instruction

The course will be delivered via a combination of lecture and laboratory instruction. The content of the lecture is integrated with laboratory experiments and with content in the textbook and scientific journal articles. Students will complete a term project as part of the course.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. The instructor will present a written course outline with specific evaluation criteria at the beginning of the semester. Evaluation will be based on the following:



Tests and assignments  




Term project


Midterm examination 


Final examination                    




Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. define microbes and environmental microbiology

  2. explain the distribution of microbes in several different environments, including water, sediments, soil and air

  3. describe the diversity of microbes in the different environments

  4. demonstrate how diversity is assessed and identify methodological issues associated with each technique

  5. predict which abiotic and biotic factors influence the environmental distribution of microbes

  6. illustrate the ecological importance of microbes and their function in natural ecosystems

  7. describe viral metabolism, genetics, growth and function in an environmental context

  8. describe bacterial and archaeal metabolism, genetics, growth and function in an environmental context

  9. describe protozoan metabolism, genetics, growth and function in an environmental context

  10. describe fungal metabolism, genetics, growth and function in an environmental context

  11. speculate how climate change will impact the distribution, diversity and function of microbes in ecosystems

  12. summarize methods commonly used in environmental microbiology and identify their limitation (These methods can include enumeration techniques, genetic analysis, functional assays and techniques used to measure microbial activity)

  13. identify, examine and criticize scientific literature

  14. write and present a research project

  15. employ a variety of laboratory techniques, including isolation, enumeration, basic genome analysis and functional assays

course prerequisites

BIOL 2400 and BIOL 3305



curriculum guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester/year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

course schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.