5 Ways to Make Bacteria a More Approachable Topic

Sana Shujat

The organism with remarkable survival instincts, known as bacteria, is found everywhere. It is present in soil, glaciers, etc. Did you know that the oldest bacterial strain isolated from the earth's salt is estimated to be more than 250 million years old? There are many more interesting facts about bacteria that could help educators make learning about this topic a fun experience. 

This prokaryotic organism could be either friendly or deadly; it could help us with oil spillage or cause contagious health issues like tuberculosis. Luckily, we've antibiotics to deal with disease-causing bacteria, but these clever little creatures are capable of developing resistance against many antibiotics. It shows that bacteria are continuously adapting to the changing environment, which might be why they could survive in places where no other organisms could even live for a day. 

There is an entire branch of science, i.e., Mycology, which is dedicated to studying bacteria; therefore, it is understandable that it is a vast topic that overwhelms educators and learners at the college level. Do not worry Labster has got you covered. We will discuss three reasons for bacteria being tricky to teach and five ways to make it a more approachable topic. 

Why bacterial morphology, cell structure, isolation, and quantification could be tricky topics?

Many reasons make teaching and learning about bacteria tricky at the college/university level. Here we'll discuss the top three reasons experienced by most educators while dealing with this subject. 

1. Bacteria is a unicellular prokaryotic organism, unlike plants or animals

The bacteria were grouped with plants in the old classification system, but the discovery of its unique features made taxonomists change their minds. For instance, prokaryotes do not have a true nucleus or membrane-bounded organelles; instead, their genetic material is freely dispersed in the cytoplasm (which is unlike plants or animals). Bacteria is a unicellular organism but can reproduce sexually (conjugation, transformation, etc.) and asexually (binary fusion, etc.), so it differs from protists. They have cell walls in addition to plasma membranes like plant cells, but still, they're placed in a separate kingdom. Cyanobacteria (a form of bacteria) can photosynthesize, but it doesn't mean it has chloroplast (membrane-bounded organelle); instead, chlorophyll is found in the thylakoids freely placed in the cytoplasm. 

The bacterial cell structure and cytoplasmic content do not precisely resemble animals, plants, protists, or algae; therefore, it has its dedicated kingdom in a five-kingdom classification system, i.e., Kingdom Monera. Compared to other organisms, these unique features make learning bacteria a challenging experience for students. They are bound to get overwhelmed by the cytosolic content with special organelles. 

2. Bacterial isolation and streaking procedure is lengthy 

Students could easily forget simple tasks like flaming the loops or following the streaking pattern in stressful laboratory conditions. Growing bacteria in agar media and pouring media in sterilized slides could be challenging as there are high chances of contamination. Handling the loop and streaking pattern is crucial in developing desired colonies. This process could make students feel uninterested, as the results might take about 24 hours. 

3. Need an understanding of microscopes and some software

Bacteria is a microscopic organism and requires specific microscopic settings to visualize the shapes and movements of the bacteria successfully. Students find it challenging to prepare microscopic slides following the extensive specimen preparation protocols. Growing bacteria would take more than a week to complete, and students would waste countless agar plates. The tedious process of plating and counting the colonies makes students anxious about the topic. Moreover, educators find it challenging to explain the use of software needed to study the changing trends of bacterial growth with antibiotic treatment.

5 ways to make bacterial morphology, cell structure, isolation, and quantification more approachable topics

The vast scope of this topic makes it challenging for students to comprehend. We'll discuss five effective and practical ways educators could use to make bacterial morphology, cell structure, isolation, and quantification more approachable.

1. Share interesting facts about bacteria with your students

Sharing interesting facts is a great way to get students' attention and make your lecture fun. The few fun facts about bacteria that you can share with your class are as follows:

  • Bacteria come in different shapes and sizes. Bacteria could be spherical (coccus), rod-shaped (bacillus), spiral (spirillum), or comma-shaped (vibrios).
  • Bacteria could survive temperatures at both extremes (high and low). This adaptation is due to several different factors, including but not limited to structural adjustment of enzymes, expression of cold shock proteins, and maintenance of membrane fluidity.
  • Bacteria reproduce quickly, with hundreds of colonies produced in a few hours, doubling every 4 to 20 minutes.
  • There are two types of bacteria depending upon the cell wall composition. Gram-positive bacteria lack an outer membrane, unlike gram-negative but are surrounded by thick layers of peptidoglycan and are more susceptible to antibiotics. In contrast, gram-negative bacteria are covered by a thin peptidoglycan cell wall and an additional lipopolysaccharide layer, making them more resistant to antibiotics. 
  • Deinococcus radiodurans can withstand about 10,000 times the radiation required to kill humans, making it an ideal option for nuclear waste remediation. 

2. Relate it to the real world

Students get intrigued to learn more about the subject when they see its implication in daily life. There are many real-world examples to highlight the significance of bacteria in our life. 

Did you know that our body has many more bacterial cells when compared with normal body cells? Most bacteria are found in our gut but live rent-free on our skin and other body parts/organs. Ask questions to spark interest, like "what do you think? Are these bacteria-friendly? The bacteria inside our body help fight certain germs, keeping us healthy. The question arises here is that where these bacteria come from. The answer is that bacteria start colonizing our bodies during birth. The Lactobacilli live in the mother's vagina, which moves to the baby's intestines to aid in digesting lactose from milk (lactose is a sugar). If lactose is not digested correctly, the baby will get stomach issues like bloating and diarrhea. All bacteria invading or colonizing our bodies are not helpful; for instance, some bacteria enter through broken skin into hair follicles, causing infections (appearing as rashes or worse). 

Bacteria also have many economic significances; for example, Escherichia coli could be used to prepare vitamin K and riboflavin commercially. It is also efficient in storing DNA sequences, producing proteins, and testing protein function. For example, large quantities of insulin for diabetic patients are produced using bacteria. The DNA from human pancreatic cells is isolated and introduced to the bacterial DNA. The bacteria with foreign DNA ferment recombinant DNA to yield the desired amount of insulin. Bacteria have many more applications in bioremediation, biotechnology, pest control, fiber retting, etc. 

Educators at the college/university level could take advantage of such real-world examples to make lectures more fun and engaging. 

3. Seeing is believing

Learning about microorganisms like bacteria that we cannot see with the naked eye could feel pointless. Students feel more interested in the subject when seeing the bacteria in action. 

Visualizing bacterial movement and structure is complex, as students might get confused about the types of bacteria with a slight difference in structure. For instance, "Streptococcus pneumoniae" is a diplococcus (two spheres), while "Staphylococcus aureus" is staphylococci (many spheres). The snippet shown below is an interactive way of observing bacterial movement patterns. You can find many fun ways of teaching different topics associated with bacteria at Labster. 

Likewise, learning different growth phases (lag, exponential, stationary, decline) makes more sense for students when they see visual examples like in the snippet from Labster.

4. Make it stick with word-play

We've discussed the significance of real-world examples and visual representations in making a topic more approachable, but students also need to memorize the topics for exams. Word-play is a fun way of making complex terms easier to remember. Following are a few problematic terms found in bacteria-related topics made easy with meanings or word-play.

  • Flagella and pili are hair-like projections but have different morphology and functions. The word "flagellum" means "whip," which shows the whip-like propelling action of flagella to help bacteria in movement. On the other hand, "pili" means "hair," which shows short hair-like structures surrounding the bacterial cell involved in sexual reproduction. 
  • Students often find it hard to understand the concept of dilution. Relate the word "dilution" with "deletion," making it easy to memorize that "log dilution" mean to decrease bacterial concentration to our desired amount. 

5. Use virtual lab simulations

A virtual laboratory simulation is a great way to teach morphology, cell structure, isolation, and quantification. At Labster, we're dedicated to delivering fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that utilize gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems inside an immersive and engaging 3D universe.

Check out the virtual lab stimulation at Labster covering Bacterial Cell Structures,Bacterial Growth Curves,Bacterial Isolation,Bacterial Quantification, and Bacterial Shapes and Movement.

In these simulations, you will compare your bacterial cell structures to other bacteria and learn which cellular structures are essential for the bacteria to survive in extreme environments. You'll get a chance to identify the names of the different bacterial shapes and observe how each bacteria moves. You will also perform bacterial isolation using the plate streaking technique and incubate the bacterial culture with the antibiotic compound to quantify the effect of the compound on bacterial growth. 

Get in touch to find out how you can start using interactive simulations showing the right way of using a microscope or analyzing the effect of temperature on bacterial growth.

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