Microbial Ecology (2019/2020)

Course code
Name of lecturer
Giovanni Vallini
Giovanni Vallini
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
II semestre dal Mar 2, 2020 al Jun 12, 2020.

Lesson timetable

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Learning outcomes

The course is designed to provide students with a comprehensive training on both structure and role of microbial communities within different natural and anthropized habitats, as main actors of biogeochemical cycles of the elements. Students will have the opportunity to learn the most up-to-date theoretical principles and experimental methodologies to analyze microbial communities both in natural systems and in engineered (technological) contexts. Students attending the course will also be able to acquire interpretative tools allowing them to identify the occurrence of ecological imbalances and critically evaluate human impacts on the environment in terms of pollution and climate change, possibly even due to perturbations of microbial biocenoses at macro-scale level.


[1]. Principles and boundaries of Microbial Ecology: fundamental rules and basic concepts that govern functioning of complex biological systems, with reference to the microbial component organized in highly diverse and extremely dynamic communities. [2]. Methodological tools and experimental procedures for studies in Microbial Ecology (microscopy, FISH, respirometry, measurement of carbon substrate utilization, radioisotopes and stable isotopes, microelectrodes, molecular fingerprinting, isolation techniques, metagenomics). [3]. Spatial scale of Microbial Ecology: a) systems on a microscopic scale (phenomena near or within the single microbial cell), b) macroscale microbial ecosystems (aquatic systems, terrestrial systems, microbial associations with other biota) in mutual interaction with physical, chemical, edaphic, and biological factors, including also anthropization and engineering forces, c) microbial dynamics with impact on global scale systems. [4]. Role of individual species with respect to that of consortia in the establishment, functioning, diffusion and resilience of microbial communities. [5]. Biomats and biofilms: formation of organized microbial communities (stability, succession and dispersion). [6]. Main mechanisms that mediate the interactions between microorganisms (classification of different microbial interactions) and between microorganisms and hosts (plants or animals). [7]. Microbial processes contributing to biogeochemical cycles. [8]. Biomineralization and microbial weathering. [9]. Case studies among the wide variety of microbial habitats: surface waters, marine waters, surface and subsurface soil, groundwater, agricultural contexts, heavily polluted sites, the urban environment. [10]. Synthetic microbial ecology: the use of design principles to engineer microbial communities in order to obtain self-regulating as well as mutually reinforcing systems, able to perform specific functions.

Reference books
Author Title Publisher Year ISBN Note
Larry L. Barton, Robert J. C. McLean (Eds) Environmental Microbiology and Microbial Ecology (Edizione 2) Wiley-Blackwell 2019 978-1-118-96626-6
J.-C. Bertrand, P. Caumette, P. Lebaron, R. Matheron, P. Normand, T. Sime-Ngando (Eds) Environmental Microbiology: Fundamentals and Applications - Microbial Ecology (Edizione 1) Springer 2011 978-9-401-79117-5

Assessment methods and criteria

Final assignment of course credit by written examination. The test consists in the submission to the student of a multi-page form containing 20 to 25 quizzes, including single answer questions, multiple answer questions, calculation exercises, request of short comments and descriptions. Each question is given a different weight in points. The rating is in thirtieths, based on the percentage of points matched with the correct answers.