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Fecal Coliforms in Antarctica


Stephen C. Nold
Biology Department
University of Wisconsin-Stout


In this interrupted case study, students explore the environmental consequences of Antarctic research as they design experiments to assess the impact of disposing untreated sewage from a research station into the ocean. Students review experimental methods to measure coliform bacteria, examine data, and decide what actions, if any, should be taken. The case can be used in either a non-majors course in science literacy or a general microbiology class studying bacterial detection methods. For non-majors, the instructor would emphasize the mechanics of data collection and analysis and may touch on the environmental implications of finding fecal coliforms in Antarctic waters. For microbiology students, the instructor would highlight the bacteriology and pair the case with a lab.


  • Learn about experimental design (appropriate use of controls, data collection, data interpretation).
  • Understand how scientific data inform policy makers.
  • Learn about fecal coliform detection methods.
  • Raise environmental awareness.


Microbes; coliforms; fecal coliform; enteric bacteria; sewage; growth media; sampling protocol; experimental design; McMurdo Sound; Antarctica; Greenpeace

Topical Areas

Ethics, Policy issues, Scientific method

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Dilemma/Decision, Interrupted



Subject Headings

Microbiology  |   Biology (General)  |   Science (General)  |  

Date Posted


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James Gilham
Design & Architecture Sr. High
Miami, FL
Showed the Werner Herzog Film Encounters at the End of The World. Excellent film created tremendous interest in the problems of human influence in a “pristine” setting. Student worksheets were easy to follow and adapt. Loved it.

Monica LeClerc
Lab Science
Jefferson Community College
Watertown, NY
I used the case in a majors general biology course to introduce our study of bacteria. Our next lab will be bacterial morphology, culture, and water quality testing for coliform. I thought this lab was a great way to introduce the concepts and application in a realistic context. I used it as written and students responded to it very well. They enjoyed the analysis and discussion but felt that they would have liked more time (our class periods are 55 minutes). I too felt like we could have used more time—there is no reason we can’t discuss this further next class. I also think with more experience I will get better at facilitating the discussion.