Today was the introductory lecture in my first year non-majors Biology class. The course is called, “Microbes, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”. As part of my first class I handed out a survey to get a feel for students’ understanding of microbes before the course starts. I included questions such as “What are some differences between viruses and bacteria?”, “What causes food poisoning?” and “What causes colds”.  The answers I got were varied and interesting. 

The last two questions on the survey were most enlightening, because I can use them to direct the course content. Here are the questions. Below each question are all of the answers that I received.

Name one disease that you would like to have more knowledge about.


  • Kidney diseases
  • Celiac
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Strep Throat
  • The Plague
  • Leprosy
  • Cancer (18 students)
  • (Leukemia)
  • The Flu (5 students)
  • The common cold (why is there no cure?)
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections
  • AIDS (5 students)
  • Diabetes
  • Flesh eating disease (2 students)
  • Scarlet Fever
  • SARS
  • Bird Flu (2 students)


There were 50 surveys returned. I’m impressed and interested by the answers. Cancer is such a huge interest and concern. I had already planned a lecture on it (even though it is not a microbial disease), so I’m glad to see that so many students want to know about it. There are other non-microbial diseases listed, quite a few, so maybe some time spent on microbial v.s. non-microbial diseases may be worthwhile. Here’s the other question:

Please write down a question that you hope to get the answer to during this course.


  • How many disease-causing organisms exist?
  • How do epidemics break out and how do they die out?
  • More about food poisoning
  • What is a microbe? (2 Students)
  • What is the difference between bacteria and viruses?
  • How do we treat microbes in our life?
  • How cancer develops in the human body
  • Best ways to keep from getting sick
  • Why aren’t viruses treatable?
  • Is microbiology an important factor to the human body?
  • The evolution of microorganisms contrasted to the evolution of macroorganisms such as animals.
  • What is the first microorganism?
  • Is there a cure for some of the most known diseases? (e.g. Cancer and diabetes?)
  • With all the scientific knowledge that exists, why is there no cure for cancer and AIDS?
  • How to prevent illness effectively
  • What is the news about the death gene and how does it relate to cancer and chronic health disease?
  • What causes cancer and why can’t it be combated completely
  • How is birdflu going to wipe out the world?
  • Are anti-bacterias [sic] good for us, or should we just allow bacteria to be naturally developed/destroyed (ex. Hand anti-bacteria).
  • How do organisms cause disease?
  • Why microbes are important and what is the benefits of studying them?


Wow! What a great list! Several of these topics are already in the lecture plan, but it is great to know that the students are interested. Others, I’ll have to look into. I’ll try to answer all of them before the semester finishes.