A coveted class explores the unseen life all around us
Life teems unseen in both the soil and the sea, waging an endless, hidden biochemical war. Students who take Patricia Rossi and Spencer Nyholm’s “Microbe Hunters” class, however, can witness it firsthand.
Discovering the microbiological world can transform a person. Nyholm grew up on the ocean in Southern California, fishing for sand dabs and rockfish. He loved inspecting bits of what he caught under his dad’s microscope, and thought he wanted to be a doctor. But some volunteer work cured him of that notion, and it was in a marine biology class that he found his true calling.
Both Rossi’s parents were middle school teachers, and she’d always wanted to follow in their footsteps. Then in college, as a biology/English major who also thought she was on her way to medical school, a microbiology class caught her up in the mystique of the tiny.
“There’s so much stuff you can’t see with the naked eye, yet they impact us so much,” she says. Rossi has a favorite picture she likes to show students of Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria with an elegantly spiral form. It causes Lyme disease. Some of the tiny stuff is beautiful. Some is deadly. All of it can amaze.