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BE Advised

The place to go for undergraduate advising in biological engineering

Focus Area 2: Ecological and Microbial Systems

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What is it?

Ecological and microbial systems involve the interactions of species with each other and with their environment. The interactions may be affected by environmental contaminants and/or may be used by humans for productive purposes.

How we use it?

Large-scale microbial processes such as composting use mixed cultures in stable or sequential consortia determined by their environments. Even large industrial bioreactors producing enzymes, fuels and antibiotics effectively operate as ecologies rather than pure cultures due to genetic drift and low-level contamination.  Biological processes in nature such as nitrogen fixation, and those designed by humans to work with nature such as habitat restoration, bioremediation, green walls for air, and integrated pest management, involve interactions among species ranging in scale from microbes to redwoods. Engineers focusing on microbial and ecological systems study these interspecies interactions, design them into systems which produce useful products and preserve the environment, and monitor ecosystems to preserve their stability in the face of population growth and climate change.

Career possibilities

Engineering careers in microbial and ecological systems may be found in hydroponics, biofuels, food processing, management of pests and invasive species, and sustainable waste processing including advances in composting and anaerobic digestion. Engineers in this area may develop microbial consortia to decompose contaminants or render them harmless, to promote plant growth and disease resistance, or to help replace chemical pesticides and herbicides.  In future, the design, monitoring and construction of ecosystems will grow in importance as Earth and its multiple populations adjust to climate change and water scarcity.

Focus Area courses to help you prepare

  • BEE 3299 – Sustainable Development
  • BEE 3710 – Physical Hydrology for Ecosystems
  • BEE 4270 – Water Measurement and Analysis Methods
  • BEE 4730 – Watershed Engineering
  • BEE 4750 – Environmental Systems Analysis
  • BEE 4760 – Solid Waste Engineering
  • BEE 4870 –  Sustainable Bioenergy Systems
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