Why I teach microbiology

In my “meet the students” first day lecture this week, I allowed that I have been interested in microbiology for close to 4 decades now. My father is a professor of biology at my alma mater, the University of Delaware, and also taught Introductory Microbiology for a period in the late 1970s through the mid 1980s. One of the responsibilities of those faculty was to help with the instruction at several satellite campuses, and so Dad would fill up the back of the station wagon with microscopes to teach Micro down in lower Delaware once a week. We’d then set up the microscopes at the kitchen table afterwards, and I’ve never looked back.

I think Dad has come about his interest in science through a similar way; his father (my grandfather) was an industrial chemist in New Orleans, and his grandfather was a physician in Slidell, Louisiana. My father’s research interests have been focused on the biochemistry of respiration, in particular with microorganisms that are killed by the presence of oxygen. One memorable (for me) project, however, was when he spent some time with NASA in an astrobiology research group, studying microorganisms from extreme environments before they were in vogue. I have worked to keep my interests in science similarly varied, with the focus on the “how” and “why” of the way biology works the way it does.

Anyway, I am putting this story up today, because it’s Dad’s birthday today: Happy Birthday, Dad! Thank you for bringing those microscopes home, and enjoy the day!


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on September 2, 2012, in Meta. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Well thanks, Dr. Singleton! Actually, my interest in microbial respiration was sort of a “late career” thing. The first microbiology problem that really caught my interest was organisms that grow at high temperatures. A series of 1961 papers purportedly claimed that a protein from a thermophile had a very unusual structure that was responsible for the organism’s ability to grow at high temperatures. So that doctoral thesis that you make so much fun of demonstrated that there was very little difference in a different, but more complex, protein and the same protein from organisms growing a lower temperatures (except the protein was very heat stable. The paper was the first of several to demonstrate that temperature stability (and thus the ability to grow at high temperatures) was a very subtle and complex phenomenon. If I wanted to continue working on the problem I basically had to go back to graduate school to learn a whole new field! So when an opportunity arose to change my research focus, but still use some of my basic skill set, I started working on anaerobic respiration in sulfate-reducing bacteria.

    I guess the bottom line of the above rambling is that sometimes life in science leads us down strange paths.

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