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MBL Microbial Diversity Course Designated as “Milestones in Microbiology” Site

The Microbial Diversity Course at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Mass., was offıcially named a Milestones in Microbiology site by the ASM on Saturday, 22 June 2013, in recognition of its many educational and research contributions to the science of microbiology.

The Milestones in Microbiology program recognizes and honors institutions (and the scientists who worked there) that have made significant contributions toward advancing the science of microbiology.

The Microbial Diversity Course begins each year with an evening trip to a nearby cedar swamp where students recreate the 1776 Volta experiment. They forage in the mud to collect “flammable gas,” and then light up the woods with flares of methane produced by anaerobic microorganisms. The artwork on the Milestones plaque (by Mary Buckley) represents this annual tradition.Jeffery Miller, President of ASM, presented a commemorative plaque to MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman at a site dedication ceremony immediately following the annual Microbial Diversity Symposium, “Through the Looking Glass: New Concepts in Microbial Physiology.” Students, instructors, past course directors, Waksman Foundation for Microbiology Board members, ASM local Branch offıcers, and other visitors attended the ceremony. Ruderman accepted the award on behalf of the course and all its current and past participants, noting that it was a special honor to receive the award during MBL’s 125th Anniversary year.

The Microbial Diversity Course (http://courses.mbl.edu/microbialdiversity/index.html), recognized around the world as one of the foremost research training courses on microbial ecology and environmental microbiology, is an intensive six-and-a-half-week research and training experience in microbiological techniques for working with a broad range of microbes, and in approaches for recognizing the metabolic, phylogenetic, and genomic diversity of cultivated and as yet uncultivated bacteria. It incorporates intensive and immersive study, lectures, laboratory exercises, and student-initiated independent research for graduate and postdoctoral students, as well as established investigators.

Microbial Diversity Course (2013) students with the Milestones plaque.The Course has enjoyed success since its founding in 1971 by Holger Jannasch, who gathered an elite group of instructors and patterned the program after C. B. van Niel’s famous summer course at the Hopkins Marine Station, which was designed as an overview of the physiology and biochemistry of microbes. Also vital to the early success of the Microbial Diversity Course were Nobel Laureate Selman Waksman and his son, Byron Waksman, who provided fınancial support from the Foundation for Microbiology at a critical time when the course might have ended due to lack of funding. The Waksman Foundation continues to provide signifıcant support for the Course.

Specifıcally designed to accommodate and adapt to changing times and practices, the Course continues to evolve in its approach to presenting and implementing the core curriculum (enrichment and isolation, microscopy, microbial physiology, anaerobic microbiology, and microbial ecology) due in large part to MBL’s practice of bringing in new course directors with different ideas, strengths, and research areas every four or fıve years. “Each year, the Course has a different ‘menu,’ because during the winter months, directors become ‘chefs,’ developing elaborate plans for each microbial ‘feast of the week,’ deciding which areas to feature and whom to invite for the 20 or more guest lectures,” writes Ralph S. Wolfe (Director 1985–1989).

Many prominent microbiologists have served as directors of the Microbial Diversity Course over the years, including course founder Holger Jannasch, Harlyn Halvorson, Ralph Wolfe, E. Peter Greenberg, Martin Dworkin, John Breznak, Edward Leadbetter, Abigail Salyers, Caroline Harwood, Alfred Spormann, William Metcalf, Thomas Schmidt, and current codirectors Daniel Buckley and Stephen Zinder. Leading researchers in the fıeld serve as faculty and guest lecturers, and the instructional staff and students represent a diverse set of disciplines and a range of expertise and experience: ecologists, engineers, marine scientists, astrobiologists, geochemists, and microbiologists ranging from second-year graduate students to postdocs and faculty.

In his remarks designating the site as a Milestone, Miller commented, “From its very origins, the Microbial Diversity Course has been unique—in rigorous research, distinctive instruction methodology, and cutting-edge scientifıc discovery. It has influenced generations of microbiologists and holds a special place in the world of scientifıc research.”

ASM established the Milestones in Microbiology Program to promote greater awareness and appreciation of microbiology and to inspire interest in our microbiological heritage. By placing plaques at Milestones sites, ASM aims to increase professional and public recognition and appreciation of the signifıcance of the science of microbiology. The MBL Microbial Diversity Course is the seventh recognized Milestones site.

Previously designated Milestones in Microbiology sites include the Selman A. Waksman Laboratory at Rutgers University; Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, Calif.; the site of the University of Pennsylvania Laboratory of Hygiene; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine; and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Milestones is administered by the Center for the History of Microbiology/ASM Archives (CHOMA) and Communications Committees. For more information on these sites and to nominate future sites, visit www.asm.org/choma.

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