Dr. Hill and students

Living in a microbial world

Wofford students swab their navels, behind ears to study bacteria

Microbial World 382
2016-01-13

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — For the month of January, future health care professionals and researchers are studying something that they can't see — microorganisms — and they are looking at them in ways that stretch the walls of the traditional classroom or lab.

According to Wofford biology faculty Dr. Stefanie Baker and Dr. Natalie Spivey, understanding the relationship between "man and microbes" is important because some cause deadly diseases such as cholera and Ebola, while others are used to make cheese or beer or to remove pollutants from the environment.

"In the regular classroom, we focus more on the technical side of microbes. Interim allows us to spend more time on application," says Baker. "We can take our studies a step further and look at the role of microbes in society and throughout history."

This past week students swabbed their navels and behind their ears to see what types of bacteria they were growing on their bodies. They created cultures, stained them, looked at them under a microscope and now have sent them off to a DNA testing facility find which particular bacterium that they have on their skin.

"Our bodies have 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells," says Spivey. "Students learn to appreciate that not all microorganisms are bad. Most do lots of good things for us."

The implications of the study of microbes span from discussions of hygiene and health to epidemics and bioterrorism.

Every year Wofford offers an Interim term during January that gives students the opportunity to focus on a single topic designed to expand the walls of the traditional classroom, explore new and untried topics, take academic risks, observe issues in action, develop capabilities for independent learning and consider different peoples, places and professional opportunities.

Interim 2016 began at Wofford College on Monday, Jan. 4, and concludes on Thursday, Jan. 28.