• Instructors: Johan Leveau, Hung Doan
  • Prerequisites: None, but prior experience in biology and lab courses is highly recommended.
  • Typical Field Trips: UC Davis Arboretum, Armstrong Ranch (Plant Pathology Field Station), Plant Pathology Diagnostic Lab, a commercial processing tomato field, a local agrobiotech company


In this cluster, we will introduce students to the microbes that live on and in plants. Students will learn to appreciate that all plants carry such microbes, that these microbes represent a rich and diverse assemblage of microscopic shapes and species, and that there are many ways in which these microbes may impact, for better or worse, the health of their host plant. Students will be introduced to basic concepts of microbiology, plant disease, food security and food safety. Students will learn simple laboratory techniques as they relate to the fields of microbiology and plant pathology. As a project, students will isolate, describe, and write a report on their microbe of choice, and contribute to the development and testing of a plant-microbe-inspired game.

Core Courses - The basics of plant microbiology

This module will introduce microbial life (bacteria, fungi, viruses, algae, and protozoa) on and in leaves, roots and other plant parts. We will look at the form and function of microorganisms, their mode of life, and their diversity. Students will have the opportunity to view, describe, and draw microbial life under the microscope and to isolate and characterize microbes from plant samples that students will collect on field trips.

Plant-associated microbes: friends or foes?

Students will look at how plant-associated microorganisms impact plant, animal and human life, and learn about plant disease symptoms and their impacts on food production. We will explore how some microbes can make plants sick (so-called pathogens) while others help plants grow better (so-called beneficials). One of the field trips will take the students to a local agrobiotech company dedicated to discovering microorganisms with plant growth-promoting properties.

Game design: think like a microbe, succeed as a microbe

Students will collaborate on the design of a game on the topic of plant microbiology, where players assume the role of a microbe and their objective is to successfully colonize a plant leaf surface. Students will deliberate in small groups on what such a game would look like, and share and compare their ideas with other groups. This activity will introduce the concept and challenge of the contamination of leafy greens with human pathogens such as E. coli.