The importance of genomics in the COVID-19 age cannot be overstated and genomics has a key place in the advanced undergraduate microbiology curriculum. The COVID-19 pandemic, and its attendant lockdowns, have necessitated a change in the delivery of our microbial genomics module. The key challenges for delivering a remote computer-based genomics module, are ensuring student engagement and learning; and supporting the technical aspects of remote computer work.

In the absence of in-person classes, we have adapted our material covering the principles and theory of microbial genomics, to asynchronous videos and synchronous online workshops. Practical training for all undergraduate microbiologists in the UK has been severely reduced, which has forced us to focus skills training towards computational aspects of genome assembly, analysis, and interpretation. The set up and implementation of a robust and scalable Linux-based genome analysis pipeline for students presents many challenges: from organising remote access to computer clusters; software support; and managing hardware.

Assessment for the module is based on the demonstrating learning and skills development through the analysis of SARS-CoV2 genomes to identify spike protein variation and mapping this to published structures. Terminal assessment is through the analysis of newly sequenced bacterial genomes and the preparation of a genome report suitable for publication.

We will outline the implementation and management of our Microbial Genomics module as a model for computer-based skills training for undergraduate microbiologists. Furthermore, we will discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the module and the opportunities it has presented.

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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