The scientific misconception that all microbes are “bad germs” is not lost as students enter college. In general, most people do not understand that microbiology plays a positive role in their everyday lives and it is ingrained in their personal history; socially, as well as biologically. My goals for the course are to excite incoming students about microbiology, inform them about how important microbiology is to their everyday lives and cultural heritage, and recruit students to STEM disciplines. New Jersey has a large immigrant population, which contributes to Rutgers having the most diverse student body of any American university. One aspect shared between people from every culture and religion is that they enjoy signature fermented foods and beverages. Although students may have a cultural appreciation for these foods, they might not be aware that microbes are essential for producing them and that these traditions are shared with other cultures. Throughout the course, students will be introduced to microbial physiology and the basics of fermentation. We will discuss what the microbes gain from fermenting sugars or amino acids and what we gain from the fermented foods and from ingesting the associated live microorganisms. We will discuss the historical importance of fermented foods and the importance of fermentation byproducts as flavor enhancers and preservatives. We will then embark on a journey through representative cultures and their signature fermented foods. Our goal for the end of the class will be to discussing alternate biotechnological applications of microbes and how microbes can be used to help address problems currently facing humanity and the earth.
Jeff Boyd (Biochemistry and Microbiology)