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Summer Course for Undergraduates: Course Description

C-DEBI Summer Course for Undergraduates
Global Environmental Microbiology (GEM)

Microbes are the beginning and end for almost every process on earth! From hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean, to tropical rainforests near the equator, and from the North to South Pole, microbiologists uncover their secrets.

At Hot Springs (Photo by A. Close)

At Owens Salt Lake (Photo by J. Heidelberg)

Don't you want to come exploring? You don't have to travel that far - only off the coast of California to Catalina Island. In partnership with the National Science Foundation, C-DEBI offers a course in microbiology and microbial ecology. Taught by Drs. John Heidelberg and Eric Webb, this field-based, hands-on course will be:

  • Offered at the University of Southern California
  • Four weeks in length in the Summer of 2014
  • Week 1 USC with lectures and labs
  • Week 2 spent in the Eastern Sierra Mountains
  • Weeks 3 and 4 at Wrigley Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island

So come and get your "feet wet" in microbial ecology and learn what bacteria are, how they work, and what they do. Explore DNA, genetics and genomics and their potential function in the environment. Figure out how microbes are used - not just for wine and cheese.

Course expenses, travel, room and board are paid for by C-DEBI.

Applications due:  February 7, 2014
Course begins:  July 7, 2014
Course ends:  August 1, 2014

Please contact Cindy Joseph at with any questions.


GEM Class of 2012!

Back row: Joanna Goley, Kevin Chau, Eric Smith, Keneth Kim, Benjamin Little, Ceasar del Cano, Ellen White, Samantha Valdez, Carolina Guia, Brittany Freitag; front row:  Fizza Sajid, Loren Ramirez, Lindsey McGinn, Aimee Tramel, Kassandra  Hishida

Applications for this year's GEM course are now closed.

Introduction to Microbiology
Week 1

Welcome to the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations Global Environmental Microbiology (C-DEBI GEM) Course!  In the first week of the course, lectures will focus on beginning our tour of the microbial world and discussing what microbiology is all about.  We will cover the importance of microbes, the cell as the fundamental unit of life and how microbes shape the world around us.  Further, we will discuss the historic roots of microbiology and explain how scientists hundreds of years ago came to realize that these very small organisms existed.

Hands-on laboratories:

  • Pipetting techniques
  • Introduction to basic molecular lab techniques
  • Student presentation preparation and delivery


Aquatic/Terrestrial Microbiology
Week 2

In this week, we leave the USC campus and head to the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains to focus our attention on unique terrestrial and aquatic environments, the bacteria that live there, and how they make their living.  While many people think of bacteria solely as ‘germs’ that are bent on infecting humans or other animals, more commonly bacteria play an important role in global biogeochemical cycles as both consumers and producers. 

Hands-on laboratories:

  • Field measurements and sampling
  • Bright field, phase, and epifluorescent Microscopy

Marine Microbiology and Basic Oceanography
Week 3

This week students leave the mountains and cruise to Santa Catalina Island and the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center, a state-of-the-art teaching facility and research laboratory.  Here students will experience more in-depth learning of microbial habitats/processes with corresponding intensive lab work to introduce students to a systems view understanding of Microbiology.

Hands-on Laboratories:

  • Oceanic sampling
  • Water quality analyses
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)
  • Molecular analysis of microbial communities

Microbial Habitats and Course Synthesis
Week 4


The final week of the course focuses on the subsurface microbial biosphere of the ocean through an introduction to Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and seafloor sampling.  Students also progress and intensify their study of microbial metabolisms and are introduced to basic bioinformatics.  The course culminates with lectures to tie together course learning and experiences as well as student presentations.

Hands-on Laboratories:

  • Basic Bioinformatics
  • ROV exploration






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