PPEM 297 From the Tame to the Wild: the Environments and Ecologies of Microbes

PPEM 297 From the Tame to the Wild: the Environments and Ecologies of Microbes (3 credits) Fall Semester Special Topics Course


Instructor: Kevin L. Hockett, Ph.D.
Time: Tuesdays/Thursdays | 12:05-1:20 p.m. | Fall semester
Location: 103 Buckhout Lab
No. of Credits: 3
Prerequisites: BIOL 110 or BIOL 011 or MICRB 106


Have you wondered how plants are able to survive in nutrient-poor soils? How sewage is made safer for the environment and for humans before it is released? Or why some people suffer from microbial infections AFTER taking antibiotics? If you have wondered about these topics and many others, then you have wondered about microbial ecology. Microbial ecology combines concepts from microbiology, ecology, evolution, physiology, genetics, geochemistry, and many others. Thus, there are many questions that microbial ecologists can ask and many methods by which they can go about forming an answer. This course can substitute for an elective within the Minor of Plant Pathology.

The course is separated into four main sections:

  • fundamental concepts
  • technologies and tools
  • microbes in wild environments
  • microbes in managed environments

In fundamental concepts we will cover key figures and ideas surrounding the development of microbial ecology. We will then familiarize ourselves with the major groups of microbes, followed by discussing critical aspects of a microbe’s biology that determines the environments in which it can thrive. We will wrap up this section by looking at how microbes interact with each other and with plant and animal hosts.

In technologies and tools we will focus on contemporary and traditional tools used in microbial ecology, including the latest molecular technologies used to ask two basic ecological questions: “Who’s there?” and “What are they doing?”

In microbes in wild environments we will look at the factors that influence the presence of microbes across distinct environments as well as how microbes help shape these environments. We will conclude this section by looking at the critical roles of microbes in cycling key nutrients.

To wrap up the lecture portion of the class with microbes in managed environments, we will examine the ways in which humans have influenced and taken advantage of microbial-driven processes for our benefit, particularly within agricultural settings.


Students will develop an understanding of both the living and non-living contexts in which microbes thrive. By the end of this course, students will be knowledgeable about the fundamentals, applications, and some of the unresolved questions of microbial ecology.

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Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at The Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the university community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. Consistent with this expectation, students should act with personal integrity; respect other students' dignity, rights, and property; and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts. Academic integrity includes a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, plagiarism, misrepresentation, or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the university community and compromise the worth of work completed by others (see Faculty Senate Policy 49‐20 and G‐9 Procedures).

Academic Integrity Guidelines for the College of Agricultural Sciences

Contact Information

Kevin L. Hockett, Ph.D.
  • Assistant Professor of Microbial Ecology
Phone: 814-865-4472