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Earth's Earliest Ecosystems in the C: The Use of Microbial Mats to Demonstrate General Principles of Scientific Inquiry and Microbial EcologyMicrobial mats are living examples of the most ancient biological communities on Earth. As Earth's earliest ecosystems, they are centrally important to understanding the history of life on our planet and are useful models for the search for life elsewhere. As relatively compact (but complete) ecosystems, microbial mats are also extremely useful for educational activities. Mats may be used to demonstrate a wide variety of concepts in general and microbial ecology, including the biogeochemical cycling of elements, photosynthesis and respiration, and the origin of the Earth's present oxygen containing atmosphere. Microbial mats can be found in a number of common environments accessible to teachers, and laboratory microbial mats can be constructed using materials purchased from biological supply houses. With funding from NASA's Exobiology program, we have developed curriculum and web-based activities centered on the use of microbial mats as tools for demonstrating general principles in ecology, and the scientific process. Our web site ( includes reference materials, lesson plans, and a "Web Lab", featuring living mats maintained in a mini-aquarium. The site also provides information as to how research on microbial mats supports NASA's goals, and various NASA missions. A photo gallery contains images of mats, microscopic views of the organisms that form them, and our own research activities. An animated educational video on the web site uses computer graphic and video microscopy to take students on a journey into a microbial mat. These activities are targeted to a middle school audience and are aligned with the National Science Standards.
Document ID
Acquisition Source
Ames Research Center
Document Type
Conference Paper
Bebout, Brad M.
(NASA Ames Research Center Moffett Field, CA, United States)
Bucaria, Robin
(Dartmouth Middle School United States)
Date Acquired
August 23, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2006
Subject Category
Meeting Information
Meeting: AbSciCon 2006
Location: Washington, DC
Country: United States
Start Date: March 26, 2006
Funding Number(s)
OTHER: 21-344-58-00
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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