A simulator-assisted workshop for teaching chemostat cultivation in academic classes on microbial physiology

Xavier Hakkaart, Jack Pronk, Ton van Maris

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Understanding microbial growth and metabolism is a key learning objective of microbiology and biotechnology courses, essential for understanding microbial ecology, microbial biotechnology and medical microbiology. Chemostat cultivation, a key research tool in microbial physiology that enables quantitative analysis of growth and metabolism under tightly defined conditions, provides a powerful platform to teach key features of microbial growth and metabolism. Substrate-limited chemostat cultivation can be mathematically described by four equations. These encompass mass balances for biomass and substrate, an empirical relation that describes distribution of
consumed substrate over growth and maintenance energy requirements (Pirt equation), and a Monod-type equation that describes the relation between substrate concentration and substrate-consumption rate. The authors felt that the abstract nature of these mathematical equations and a lack of visualization contributed to a suboptimal operative understanding of quantitative microbial physiology among students who followed their Microbial Physiology B.Sc. courses. The studio-classroom workshop presented here was developed to improve student understanding of quantitative physiology by a set of question-guided simulations. Simulations are run on Chemostatus, a specially
developed MATLAB-based program, which visualizes key parameters of simulated chemostat cultures as they proceed from dynamic growth conditions to steady state.
In practice, the workshop stimulated active discussion between students and with their teachers. Moreover, its introduction coincided with increased average exam scores for questions on quantitative microbial physiology. The workshop can be easily implemented in formal microbial physiology courses or used by individuals seeking to test and improve their understanding of quantitative microbial physiology and/orchemostat cultivation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-7
JournalJournal of Microbiology & Biology Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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