Studying online

There are now 2 possible online modes for units:

Units with modes Online timetabled and Online flexible are available for any student to self-enrol and study online.

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Unit Overview


The environment harbours an enormous diversity of micro-organisms which can be harnessed for biotechnological exploitation, from those remediating pollutants to those that complete novel and complex biotransformations. These organisms exist at almost all extremes of life, including water, thermal and electrochemical extremes. Recent developments in molecular sequencing have accelerated biotechnology applications by cataloguing the diversity of bacteria, archaea and microbial eukaryotes and their functional genes directly in their natural environments in order to select key organisms, pathways and physiologies for biotechnological applications.

This unit covers the theory and practice of assessing microbial diversity and their functional genes directly from environmental samples as a prelude to screening for key taxa and functions for biotechnology. It demonstrates DNA extraction technologies for a range of environmental types; soils, water, sediments and downstream processing for both phylogenetic surveys and functional gene analyses. Students are encouraged to analyse their own samples within practical classes and are further provided with advanced bioinformatics directed for both phylogenetic and functional gene characterisations.

6 points

Students are able to (1) develop an understanding of the theory of environmental gene surveying, sampling and requirements for storage; (2) perform DNA extractions and amplification of environmental DNA; (3) sequence DNA for both phylogenetic and functional gene markers from natural environments; (4) complete advanced bioinformatic analyses of retrieved sequences to assess phylogenetic and functional gene markers in a statistically meaningful way; and (5) gain an in-depth knowledge of ancillary technologies associated with assessing microbial function in the environment, such as stable isotope tracers, advanced microscopy and sampling techniques.


Indicative assessments in this unit are as follows: (1) a case study assignment and (2) a practical study assignment. Further information is available in the unit outline.

Student may be offered supplementary assessment in this unit if they meet the eligibility criteria.

Unit Coordinator(s)
Winthrop Professor Andrew Whiteley
Unit rules
enrolment in
the Master of Biotechnology (71580)
or the Master of Agricultural Science (72510)
or the Master of Environmental Science (72530)
Contact hours
lectures/tutorials: 2 hours per fortnight
practical classes: 2 hours per fortnight
  • The availability of units in Semester 1, 2, etc. was correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change.
  • All students are responsible for identifying when they need assistance to improve their academic learning, research, English language and numeracy skills; seeking out the services and resources available to help them; and applying what they learn. Students are encouraged to register for free online support through GETSmart; to help themselves to the extensive range of resources on UWA's STUDYSmarter website; and to participate in WRITESmart and (ma+hs)Smart drop-ins and workshops.
  • Unit readings, including any essential textbooks, are listed in the unit outline for each unit, one week prior the commencement of study. The unit outline will be available via the LMS and the UWA Handbook one week prior the commencement of study. Reading lists and essential textbooks are subject to change each semester. Information on essential textbooks will also be made available on the Essential Textbooks. This website is updated regularly in the lead up to semester so content may change. It is recommended that students purchase essential textbooks for convenience due to the frequency with which they will be required during the unit. A limited number of textbooks will be made available from the Library in print and will also be made available online wherever possible. Essential textbooks can be purchased from the commercial vendors to secure the best deal. The Student Guild can provide assistance on where to purchase books if required. Books can be purchased second hand at the Guild Secondhand bookshop (second floor, Guild Village), which is located on campus.
  • Contact hours provide an indication of the type and extent of in-class activities this unit may contain. The total amount of student work (including contact hours, assessment time, and self-study) will approximate 150 hours per 6 credit points.