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microbiology resources

Bob McLean rm12 at swt.edu
Fri Dec 29 11:44:06 EST 2000

Dear Len,

As an instructor for introductory microbiology, I regularly teach my
students where to go for information on various research articles in
addition to their normal course material. Your question is quite general,
but important in that a surprising number of university and college
students are unaware of sources for current information. I will summarize
some of the topics that I introduce to my students. One major concept
behind the dissemination of scientific information is that of peer review.
Simply put, peer review means that a manuscript written by one or more
scientists will be judged by other scientist(s). Probably the most
important criteria to be assessed include the quality and novelty of the
science. As well individuals who act as editors or reviewers are expected
to uphold high ethical standards in their actions. The American Society for
Microbiology has a good description of reviewer instructions that can be
seen at


With respect to tracking down some information, here are some guides:

General Information:

Textbooks - There are a number of good textbooks that will introduce and
explain most of the basic concepts in microbiology. Here, you could find
an aspect of microbiology that would be of interest for some more in depth
study. While not classified as "peer reviewed" literature, the majority of
scientific texts are reviewed for accuracy by other scientists. Often these
reviewers are listed in the first few pages (preface) of a text. The main
drawback of textbooks is that information in them can be several years out
of date. One example of a good microbiology textbook is: Microbiology, 4th
ed. Prescott, McGraw-Hill, 1999.

Websites - The internet provides a number of resources for someone wanting
to learn about a topic. The quality of internet sites varies widely since
most sites on the internet are not peer reviewed. Some information is
excellent - some is poor and other information is wrong. An example of
wrong information would be for me to post an article on elephant riding at
the South Pole on the internet. I have never been south of the equator and
have only observed elephants in several zoos.

I would use the same caution when reading newspaper articles. Most
newspaper editors have limited scientific background and so are unable to
assess the quality of material to be communicated.

There are some good websites for microbiology information. One good source
is the American Society for Microbiology (http://www.asm.org) I have placed
links to this website and a number of other good sites on my own webpage


More specific information:

Reference Books - Most reference books are peer reviewed to some extent by
the editor(s). While some are general in scope, others have a narrower
focus. Realistically with publication schedules and the time taken to
write and edit, many reference books are 1 - 2 years out of date by the
time they come into print. An example of a reference book on biofilms is:
Microbial Biofilms, edited by H.M. Lappin-Scott and J.W. Costerton,
Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Review Articles - Scientific review articles are usually written by experts
in a particular field. They are a great place to get started if you want
to learn about a subject of interest. Here, the authors will summarize the
findings of a number of research articles (which can be several hundred in
some cases). Certainly the author(s) often give their own interpretation.
Review articles can be found journals devoted entirely to reviews
(Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, Annual Review of Microbiology, 
and FEMS
Microbiology Reviews are three examples). In other cases, review articles
can be found in journals such as Nature, Science, and the Journal of
Bacteriology. A mini review is a shorter version of a regular review. As
the authors of the review will need to read journal articles, write the
review and have it go through the process of peer review, editing, and
publication, most review articles may be at least a year out of date when
first published.

Journal Articles - Journal articles (which are peer reviewed) are the main
source of scientific communication. They are very specific as they will
typically deal with one set of experiments. As you become familiar with
the scientific literature, you will find there are a lot of different
journals that will have a different impact and target audience. Two of the
top journals in the entire scientific community are Nature and Science. If
you discovered a cure for cancer, you would likely want to publish here as
it would be of fundamental interest to a large number of people. If you
discovered some fundamentally new aspect of bacterial physiology, three
possible journals would be Molecular Microbiology, Journal of Bacteriology,
and Microbiology. Again with the writing, reviewing and editing involved,
articles can be six to nine months (or more) out of date when first published.

How to Get Really Current Information:

1) Communicate with an expert in the field. Typically if you read some
journal or review articles and you notice the same author(s) on several
papers, you may wish to communicate with that authors. Should you do this,
I would strongly recommend that you employ some courtesy. Most people are
quite busy and do not have time for trivial requests, so do your homework
(i.e. read background literature) before contacting the person. If you are
given information, please assume the information to be confidential unless
told otherwise. Finally, thank the person - it is not their "job" to give
you information, they are doing you a favor.

2) Do the experiment yourself. This is the "fun" of scientific research
and through graduate school, will introduce you to a fascinating new world
of science.

How to Find a Scientific Article:

Indexing Services - There are a number of indexing publications. Examples
include Biological Abstracts and Index Medicus (medical articles). Current
Contents (published by the Institute for Scientific Information) gives a
weekly update on new literature. Online searches can be done through
Biosys and Medline. I would recommend that you contact the reference
librarian at your local university or college library for more information.
I have found that literature searches can be quite enjoyable.
I have taken the liberty of copying this information to the biofilm
discussion group in case anyone else wishes to use it for their students.

Good luck with your studies,

Bob McLean
Associate Professor

At 08:10 PM 12/28/00 +0000, you wrote:
 >hi everyone, i will be undertaking a reasearch project over the course of
 >2001 for my degree, and would like to know of any good resources for all
 >things microbiological, especially focus on bacteriology.
 >any websites with article that are full;
 >any journals to find at the library;
 >any other publications...texts..recommendations
 >what are people currently researching in and out of the lab??
 >thanks in advance
 >To reply to the group as well as to the originator, make sure that
 >the address biofilms at net.bio.net is included in the "To:" field.
 >See the BIOFILMS homepage at http://www.im.dtu.dk/biofilms for info
 >on how to (un)subscribe and post to the Biofilms newsgroup.
R.J.C. (Bob) McLean, Ph.D.
Dept. Biology
Southwest Texas State University
601 University Drive
San Marcos, Tx 78666
(512)245-3365 phone
(512)245-8713 FAX
Email: RM12 at swt.edu


To reply to the group as well as to the originator, make sure that
the address biofilms at net.bio.net is included in the "To:" field.

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