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BIOSCI349

BIOMEDICAL MICROBIOLOGY

Course Breakdown

 

Incourse Test 1: 10%
Incourse Test 2: 10%
Research Assignment: 10%
Laboratory Component: 20%
Exam: 50%

Course Information

 

Prescribed textbook: 
There is no single textbook which adequately covers the entire course, but individual lecturers will provide their own set of reference notes and articles.

Official UoA Website: link.

Basic Information

BIOSCI 349 was a highly enjoyable paper, a great choice for anyone with an interest in bacteria, viruses and parasites and their implications for human health. You will learn about a variety of intriguing topics such as the plight of antibiotic resistance, the emergence of Ebola and the neglect of parasitic diseases. But it's not all doom and gloom, as you get to learn about some really cool research going on in these fields, some of it by your very own lecturers, who are always more than happy to tell you more. In order to do this paper you have to have done both BIOSCI 201 and either BIOSCI 204 or MEDSCI 202. Neither second year microbiology paper sets you up for 349 more than the other, as it is a very delicate mix with lecturers from both papers, a research essay like 204 and a test and exam style very similar to that of 202. With the exam in mind, BIOSCI 349 is a rare BIOSCI in that there are two tests and a final exam on the content of the entire semester. Do not let this put you off! With regular revision it is still a very manageable (and very interesting) paper.

 

Research Assignment

Like you did in BIOSCI 204, you will have to write up a scientific research essay on a particular micro-organism related question set by your lecturers. These questions are posted well in advance of when you have to manually choose your question of choice which is done on a first-come, first-served basis on CECIL streams. I advise you to research the available literature on your question(s) of interest first before making a final decision as you do not want to be stuck with a question you are uninterested in or a topic in which you are unable to find adequate readings for. If you are serious about getting a particular question, be sure to enrol literally when streams open as they do fill up within a matter of seconds!

 

Laboratory Component

There were a total of 5 laboratories for BIOSCI 349 in 2015, with three of them based on bacteriology taken by Associate Professor Thomas Proft and two based around virology lead by Dr. John Taylor.

In laboratory 1 you were introduced to the theoretical aspects of diagnostic microbiology, and was given a week to complete a flow diagram of laboratory techniques which could be used to distinguish between a large variety of different bacterial species presented to you. I know of other people including myself who pulled long nights completing this so do not leave it to the last minute, and make sure your chart is chronically logical and does not contain needless overlaps or mixes up techniques which are used to detect particular microbial features. For labs 2 and 3 you were given an unknown bacterial species on an agar plate and using your diagnostic flow chart carried out a series of in-lab experiments to determine what your unknown was - these are in fact real clinical isolates!! You were also expected to document your observations and provide reasons for the techniques used, as well as write a report based on the clinical case background. I found the Textbook of Diagnostic Microbiology, 5th edition by Mahon and Legman extremely helpful as a reference for different diagnostic techniques.

​Laboratories 4 and 5 required you to use a hemagglutination assay to titre stocks of influenza virus and use a hemagglutination inhibition assay to type influenza virus strains. You will also use an ELISA immunosorbent assay to measure the concentration of rotavirus samples and titre a rotavirus antibody by ELISA using virus as the antigen. These tasks may sound extremely complicated but I can assure you they were very simple and straightforward to carry out as long as you paid close attention to the lab tutor during his/her explanation. Assessment was by another write-up done after the lab, which thankfully was very simple and straightforward to do - make sure you clarify any uncertainties with the lab demonstrators before you leave!

 

Lecture Content

1. Bacteriology

The first, largest and in my opinion also the most interesting module of BIOSCI 349 which spanned 19 lectures + a lab tutorial and six different lecturers. Topics covered in 2015 included:

  • An introduction to microbial pathogens

  • Bacterial toxins and immune evasion

  • Bacterial organelles: Pili

  • The human gut microbiome and mind-altering microbes

  • Antibiotic resistance

  • In vivo models of infection

  • Streptococcus pyogenes and rheumatic fever

  • Clostridium difficile: The etiology of disease and the role of toxins

  • Helicobacter pylori

  • Staphylococcus aureus: Virulence, diseases and its role as a hospital pathogen

  • Diarrhoeagenic and Uropathogenic Escherichia coli


​Bacteriology was the first section of the paper that was covered in lectures, with a huge variety of topics and quite a few lecturers, most of them from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences. In 2017 we started off with Associate Professor Proft, talking to us about toxins, immune evasion, pili and antibiotic resistance. We then had Dr Mike Taylor to talk to us about the human microbiome and its effects on the developing brain. This was then followed by lectures from Dr Siouxsie Wiles, Dr Simon Swift, Dr Nikki Moreland and Dr Fiona Radcliff, all giving lectures on specific bacterial pathogens that lead to disease in humans such as Escherichia coli, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Clostridium difficile, Group A Streptococcus, Helicobacter pylori and many, many more. Be warned that Dr Simon Swift doesn't like to give traditional "sit down and be quiet while I talk" lectures, but prefers that you do some pre-reading of some papers he suggests, and the class then have a discussion about it in class. This forms the basis of what you will be expected to know for the exam. Thankfully, he posted summary slides for later study. The first test was 20 multichoice questions and two short-answer questions, and at the very end of the bacteriology section.

 

2. Virology

Taking place after the mid-semester break and the first in-course test, the virology module was taught by two lecturers. The first 6 lectures was taken by the course co-ordinator himself, Dr. Richard Kingston. He taught us the following:

  • Introduction to Virology

  • Viral particle structure

  • Viral entry, transport, cellular remodeling, and exit

  • Viral gene expression and genome replication


Dr. Kingston's introductory lecture may leave you with the impression that the virology module will be a piece of cake, but you will quickly be dispelled of this myth as he will introduce a lot of content to you which fortunately isn't very conceptually hard to understand but will require a lot of rote memorisation. It can be very difficult to remember which particular viral species are positive or negative single-stranded RNA etc a different style of learning and note-making may be required compared to the previous bacteriology lectures. I would recommend you to first understand the 'bigger picture' first before attempting to memorise the finer details as without knowing how they all tie together can make his material very, very difficult to study for. Do not become frustrated if his material is taking you longer to make sense of than you had originally expected!! Once you do understand it, you'll find it surprisingly straightforward. 

The final 6 virology lectures are given to you by your BIOSCI 201 course co-ordinator, Dr. John Taylor. He will teach you the following:

  • Host defense against viral infection

  • Viral Pathogenesis

  • Vaccines and Anti-Viral Drugs

  • Evolution and emergence of viral infection


Thankfully, his lectures are much more content-light compared to Dr. Kingston's, and in my opinion far more interesting too as you move away from learning about their life cycle to how they actually cause disease in their host, how the host can fight back and the biology of vaccines, anti-viral drugs and viral evolution. Dr. Taylor will also put up lecture notes to complement his lecture slides similar to BIOSCI 201, but be wary that he does expect you to do further readings which he provides if you want extra marks for his questions in the exam, which he will mention in the lecture. A great end to the virology module 

 

3. Parasitology

A block of six lectures + tutorial taught by Dr. Augusto Barbosa in 2015, whom you would have already met in BIOSCI 204 the year before. You will be introduced to the following content:

  • Introduction to Parasitology

  • Infection Strategies of Parasites

  • Cell Biology of Protozoan Parasites

  • Immune Evasion by Parasites

  • Pathogenesis of Parasitic Diseases


This topic would have felt fairly novel to most, as neither BIOSCI 204 nor MEDSCI 202 has a large section on parasites, so it was definitely very interesting to learn. His lecture topics in 2017 featured an introduction to parasitism as a concept, the unique cell biology of protozoan parasites, how parasites evade the immune system, and then two final lectures on the pathogenesis of parasitic diseases. This included toxoplasmosis, malaria, schistosomiasis, and Chaga's disease, among others. Many of these diseases we had never heard of, and we were lucky to, as these conditions primarily affect individuals in developing countries, causing significant morbidity and mortality. It was a lot of new information to take in, what with the unique biology and species names to learn, but was not conceptually too difficult. You will need to make sure that you stay on top of his material though, because test 2 is right after his final tutorial, and consisted of 40 multichoice questions on Virology and Parasitology.