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Isolation and Characterization of Bacterial Cellulase Producers for Biomass Deconstruction: A Microbiology Laboratory Course


The conversion of biomass to biofuels presents a solution to one of the largest global challenges of our era, climate change. A critical part of this pipeline is the process of breaking down cellulosic sugars from plant matter to be used by microbes containing biosynthetic pathways that produce biofuels or bioproducts. In this inquiry-based course, students complete a research project that isolates cellulase-producing bacteria from samples collected from the environment. After obtaining isolates, the students characterize the production of cellulases. Students then amplify and sequence the 16S rRNA genes of confirmed cellulase producers and use bioinformatic methods to identify the bacterial isolates. Throughout the course, students learn about the process of generating biofuels and bioproducts through the deconstruction of cellulosic biomass to form monosaccharides from the biopolymers in plant matter. The program relies heavily on active learning and enables students to connect microbiology with issues of sustainability. In addition, it provides exposure to basic microbiology, molecular biology, and biotechnology laboratory techniques and concepts. The described activity was initially developed for the Introductory College Level Experience in Microbiology (iCLEM) program, a research-based immersive laboratory course at the US Department of Energy Joint BioEnergy Institute. Originally designed as an accelerated program for high-potential, low-income, high school students (11th-12th grade), this curriculum could also be implemented for undergraduate coursework in a research-intensive laboratory course at a two- or four-year college or university.

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