by Mark O. Martin
The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust
At my primarily undergraduate institution (3,000 students total, 12 Biology faculty, over 50 Biology majors graduated per year), there is only one microbiology course, and it is generally taught to seniors (and not all seniors at that). Considering the power and primacy of the microbial world, I have always found that lack of coverage pedagogically unsettling. No biology major could graduate without learning a fair amount about plants; what about bacteria and archaea? It is certainly true that some classes—cell biology, genetics, and molecular biology come to mind—have aspects that intersect with matters microbial. But I find that my seniors, after a semester of my prokaryotic proselytizing, are very aware of a significant gap in their education.
This is why I would urge any and all microbiologists out there to push for more microbiology, earlier in the curriculum, both in lecture and laboratory. I do what I can to promote “microbial pride” among my seniors, as you can see from the photograph of my class this semester. I even came up with a logo, which I showed during a presentation at the American Society for Microbiology General Meeting in San Francisco last June, suggesting that we microbiologists should push to “occupy the curriculum,” intellectually speaking. After all, consider how genetics, molecular biology, and biochemistry have progressed over the past century. Now consider the path of that progress without the use of prokaryotes as a model system! I believe we will also find that the fields of ecology and evolution will also be equally as indebted to bacteria and archaea over time.