Bioprospecting for Cellulose-Degrading Microbes: Filter Paper Assay Method

Middle School High School Undergraduate

Students collect samples that they predict will contain communities of cellulose-degrading microbes and test for the ability of microorganisms in their samples to break down pure cellulose (filter paper). In the process, groups collect evidence to test predictions about which environmental microbial samples will be the most effective for degrading cellulose. By comparing results across groups, students can begin to uncover patterns and develop explanations about the types of environments that support cellulose-degrading microbes. This lab method is nearly identical to that used by GLBRC researchers and student results could help scientists discover new enzymes for efficient biofuel production.

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Environmental Science

Biodiversity & Evolution


Fermentation & Enzymes

Decomposition, respiration, biomolecules, enzymes, microbial ecology, data analysis, scientific argumentation

Type of carbohydrates, basic cell wall structure, enzyme function, role of microorganisms in decomposition, matter and energy transformations

Five to seven 50-minute class periods over 12-18 days (can be adapted to shorter times)

Test tubes, test tube shaker, filter paper, Miracle Gro fertilizer (see teacher instructions for details and supplier info.)