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Biology, Undergraduate, Summary, Queen Mary, University of London

  1. Read the task in Box 1.
  2. Download each of the pdfs and read them. Keep these open so you can refer to them as you watch the video.
  3. Watch the video.

Step 1

The Task

Biology, Undergraduate, Summary, Queen Mary, University of London


This exercise is part of the tutorial module Integrative Studies in Biological Science which students take in the 2nd and 3rd years.  The module aims to help students make connections between different areas of their degree (e.g genetics, microbiology).

For this task, the students were asked to read a scientific paper and summarise it.

The paper given, “Stain-resolved community genomic analysis of gut microbial colonization in a premature infant” (1), was intentionally difficult.  Students were asked to write a summary of the paper as a report in the Science section of a newspaper such as The Times or The Guardian or in a popular science magazine

To do this they should not summarise each page, but rather should think about the paper as a whole, asking ‘What is the contribution of this paper to current research? How is it relevant?’ The summary should contain the paper’s main points and be comprehensible to a non-specialist audience - perhaps someone with A level Biology or equivalent.  Students need to give their summary a catchy title which sums up the research and draws the reader in.

Students need to be able to summarise both for their studies and beyond. In the final exam for this module, they are given three very dense journal articles (from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science  PNAS). Students choose one to summarise. In addition, during the students’ final dissertation they need to read and explain research papers, pulling out what is relevant to their own research question. Finally, in employment, a graduate may need to distil information from complex Biology research papers as part of their role in the company.

(1) Morowitz,M.J.  et al. 2011. Strain-resolved community genomic analysis of gut microbial colonization in a premature infant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 108(3),1128-1133.

Step 2


Getting closer to effectively diagnosing and treating microbial disorders

The health of humans is impacted constantly by microbes of the intestine. These microbes protect the body immunologically and produce nutrients the body requires. Immune responses formed from early development (innate immunity) and the production of structures of the intestine are strongly associated with assembly of gut microbes.

It has been found that until recently there has been little research on the colonization of these intestinal microbes at early developmental stages and with regard to those microbes at lower taxonomic levels, when compared with copious amounts of research on the latter.

Premature infants were studied due to limitations in the number of dominant species in the gut at this early stage of development, meaning diseases could be easily linked with various species of microbes.

In the past, techniques such as comparative genomics were used to categorize closely related microorganisms, although methods like this did not enable researchers to find correlations between abundance of microorganisms and the onset of disease, in the way that cultivation-independent genomic analysis of time series sampling has. Population abundance of these microorganisms can also be correlated with genetic characteristics that influence physical traits.

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Maintain a diverse ecosystem, in your intestine!

With the recent craze for probiotic yoghurt drinks, bacteria found in the gut have been a hot topic for both the general public and for scientists. When you walk into your local supermarket it is hard to find a yoghurt based product that isn’t boasting of the amount of bacteria they contain. Ho wever it seems that it is not just the type of bacteria your intestine contains that is important, it is also the diversity. It is well know that in an ecosystem diversity is essential for stability, and by comparing the human body to an ecosystem it stands to reason the same would be true for us. The research that lead to the promoting of these probiotic drinks tells us that having a healthy intestine is about having the right combination of bacteria within your intestinal tract. That the microbial community in the gut has a significant effect on your health, with there being links found between bowel disease and obesity to the gut community. It has also been found to have a major effect on the health and survival rate of premature babies. A recent study by Morowitz et al 2011 has succeeded in mapping the bacterial colonization of the gut in a premature baby. The study compares the colonisation of the gut to that of the ecological concept of succession, and by using gene sequencing they have managed to get a full picture of the community structure at these different stages of succession. All this was achieved by sequencing ribosomal RNA collected daily from the baby’s faecal matter.

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Step 3

Step 4

Download the transcript for this video.

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