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5 Ways to Make Fermentation a More Approachable Topic to Students

Usama Attiq
Teaching with Labster
October 21, 2022

Introduction: Fermentation

Fermentation is a metabolic process in which sugar molecules break down into simpler compounds to produce several compounds and energy. Zymology is the science of fermentation. The energy produced in fermentation is in the form of ATP which can be helpful for normal biological processes.

Basically, all organisms that use the respiration process need energy to perform cellular functions. There are two main types of respiration; aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic respiration happens in the existence of oxygen. All animals use aerobic respiration for the production of energy. Anaerobic respiration is the type of respiration that happens without oxygen. Bacteria and yeast produce energy through anaerobic respiration.

Fermentation can occur in both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms, including humans. For example, during strenuous exercise, our muscle cells can produce energy through aerobic respiration. When ATP demands increase, lactic acid fermentation occurs in the body to provide energy to the muscles.

Fermentation is an important topic but there are several aspects of fermentation that can be difficult for students. At Labster, we compiled all the reasons that make fermentation a difficult topic. Then, we provide five ways to make this topic simpler and easier to understand. In the end, we will convince you why a virtual lab simulation is significant for students while learning. 

fermentor

Figure: An image of a Bioreactor (fermentor) from the Labster theory. 

Why fermentation can be tricky to learn

Three main reasons make fermentation a difficult topic for students to remember.

1. It feels abstract

It is difficult for students to believe in abstract concepts. As fermentation is performed with the help of microorganisms such as bacteria or yeast, we cannot see them with the naked eye. The microorganisms are so small that we need to use a microscope to see them. To use a microscope, you need to be an expert. So, students may find it hard to learn abstract concepts like fermentation.

2. Complex reactions of fermentation

In fermentation, you need to learn about the reactions through which the products are formed. You need to know how to write a chemical formula for the fermentation process. Many students do not like learning fermentation because it is a complex and time-consuming topic. They do not want to remember the chemical reactions of each type of fermentation.

3. Remembering the names of microorganisms

Generally, bacteria like enterococcus, lactobacillus, pediococcus, and streptococcus are involved in most of the fermentation. In each fermentation type, a specific bacterium is used to produce the products. For instance, Lactococcus lactis is mainly helpful in lactic acid fermentation to produce several dairy products. Sometimes, it is difficult for students to pronounce and remember the names of the bacteria used in the fermentation. Therefore, they may think fermentation is a complicated topic to learn.

5 ways to make fermentation a more approachable topic to understand

Since we are familiar with the difficulties that students experience while learning fermentation, here are five ways to make this topic easier for students to understand.

1. Talk about the people behind that science

Louis Pasteur

Louis Pasteur was a French microbiologist who contributed to the research of fermentation, pasteurization process, and vaccinations. Pasteur is known as the “Father of Fermentation.” At that time, it was thought that fermentation was a chemical process which helped to convert the sugars into alcohol. But in 1857, he discovered the process of fermentation. He also explained that microorganisms can cause lactic acid corrosion. He proved that fermentation was not a chemical process, there were microorganisms that convert sugar into alcohol.

2. Learn the different types of fermentation

Fermentation is the conversion of substances into simpler compounds with the help of microorganisms. The procedure takes place in a fermentor. Fermentor, also called a bioreactor is a vessel in which an optimum environment is provided to the microorganisms to produce the desired products. Students should know about the stages of fermentation. These stages are primary fermentation and secondary fermentation.

In primary fermentation, the microorganism can start working on fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. These microorganisms help by preventing the putrefying bacteria from colonizing the food. Secondary fermentation is the longer stage as compared with primary fermentation. This stage of fermentation lasts from many days to weeks. For the production of alcoholic beverages, many winemakers use secondary fermentation to produce effective products.

In all types of fermentation, it is important to optimize the pH and temperature. The reason is that microorganisms can work in optimizing pH and temperature. A slight change in the pH or temperature can stop the working of bacteria. Hence, you will never get the desired product. That’s why bioreactors are used to control the pH, temperature, and other factors and produce the best products.  There are three main types of fermentation. It includes:

  1. Lactic acid fermentation

  2. Acetic acid fermentation

  3. Alcohol fermentation

Lactic acid fermentation: Bacteria and a few yeasts are used to carry out lactic acid fermentation. In this fermentation, the sugars are converted into lactic acid. This is an anaerobic fermentation in which NADH is used by pyruvic acid to produce lactic acid and NAD+. Lactic acid fermentation is a type of fermentation that can occur in humans. This fermentation is effective for the production of pickles, yogurt, and sauerkraut.

Acetic acid fermentation: Acetic acid fermentation consists of two steps. In the first step, yeast is used to anaerobically produce ethyl alcohol from sugar. The second step consists of the production of acetic acid from the oxidation of ethyl alcohol. The acetobacter bacteria is used in the second process for the oxidation process. The products produced by acetic acid fermentation are wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar.

Alcohol fermentation: Alcohol fermentation is used for the production of wine, biofuel, and beer. In this fermentation, the pyruvic acid molecule breaks down in acetaldehyde and CO2. The next step is the production of ethanol from acetaldehyde. NADH is also reduced into NAD+ during the process of glycolysis. Glycolysis is the production of pyruvate molecules from glucose.  

alcohol fermentation pathway

Figure: An image showing process of Alcohol Fermentation from Labster’s theory. 

3. Relate to the real world

Students can enjoy learning about the bacteria and fermentation types when they know their real-world applications of it. Several products produced from fermentation are used in our daily lives. It is important in producing and preserving food products and beverages. Some of the applications of fermentation are the following:

  • Production of alcoholic beverages: Fermentation is used to produce alcoholic beverages. For example, beer can be produced from grains, while wine is produced from fruits. To form vodka, potatoes with highly rich starch are used and then distilled.

  • Bread making: Mainly fermentation is the process behind the delicious bread. In this process, sugar, flour, water, and yeast are combined to make a dough. The yeast can start the fermentation process. In the end product, carbon dioxide is released from the dough, making bread rise.

  • Preservation of dairy and vegetables: Fermentation plays an effective role in preserving dairy products and vegetables. Examples of dairy and vegetables that are preserved through fermentation are yogurt, pickles, and kimchi.

  • Industrial use of fermentation: In industries, fermentation can be used to convert biofuel into ethanol. Ethanol is a renewable resource that can also be obtained from crops, trees, and grasses.

  • Other important products: The production of curing tea, preparation of antibiotics, and tanning of leather are also formed with the help of fermentation.

4. Seeing is believing

Color diagrams are effective for understanding difficult topics like fermentation. The diverse colors can make the topic easier for learners to understand. Additionally, visual representation can be stored in our memory more effectively as compared to verbal lectures. The fermentation is completed in several steps, so color diagrams can be helpful for this purpose.

The color image presented below shows the virtual representation of the fermentation graph. With the help of this graph, students can understand the graph between the growth conditions and growth curves. Basically, the growth curve represents the number of living bacteria present in the fermentation. This graph can be effective to learn about the yeast cells present in the fermentation. 

5. Use of virtual lab simulation

Virtual lab simulation is an effective way to learn about fermentation. It can be helpful for teachers to explain difficult topics to their students. At Labster, we can provide 3D virtual simulations that have gamification elements like storytelling and the scoring system. It makes learning easier for students and also teaching easier for teachers.

Labster fermentation simulation explains yeast fermentation, principles and applications of fermentation, effects of pH, temperature, and gas on fermentation, and analysis of growth curves. After using this simulation, students will understand all the important information about fermentation.

Fermentation virtual lab GIF

Check out Labster fermentation simulation here, or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual lab simulations with your students.

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