Microbes, Health and Society

The course Microbes; Health and Society: A Symbiotic Relationship empowers students by advancing scientific writing skills, career opportunities, methods of public engagement, and provides innovative insights into the fascinating and emerging research field of the human microbiome.

Course level
Master, PhD candidates and professionals from all disciplines
Session 2
11 January to 18 January 2020 
Coordinating lecturer                                      Prof. Remco Kort
Other lecturers
6 guest lectures (50 min each) about microbiome and careers
Form(s) of instructionLectures, interactive session and coaching (1:1) for proposal
Form(s) of assessmentEvaluation of research proposal
ECTS3 credits
Contact hours30/35 hours
Tuition fee

€800 - non-VU students and staff

€500 - VU students and staff

This course will benefit MSc and PhD students in the Life Sciences with an interest in microbiology, the human microbiome in health and disease, and planetary health.  If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please contact us: graduatewinterschool@vu.nl.
Suitable for PhD and MSc students; BSc in Life Sciences, proficiency in English (written and oral).
The course Microbes; Health and Society: A Symbiotic Relationship empowers students by advancing scientific writing skills, career opportunities, methods of public engagement, and provides innovative insights into the fascinating and emerging research field of the human microbiome through:

•    6 lectures by professional researchers in the field of microbiology and immunology about the human microbiome in health and disease;
•    (including 4 guest lectures) in a unique lecturing environment  in the middle of ARTIS royal zoo (access to the zoo is included);
•    3 lectures about the ‘journey’ of researchers in microbiology throughout their careers (including 2 guest lectures and one interactive session about the realization of your ambitions);
•    2 lectures about the link between microbes and planetary health and ways of public engagement;
•    writing a scientific research proposal with 1:1 guidance in the afternoon sessions; the research proposal will be included in the competition for the annual ARTIS-Micropia microbiome award of 1,000 euro.  
•    A guided visit to Micropia, world’s only microbe museum

Course Perspective:
The Anthropocene as the new geological era presents us with an urgent and comprehensive inquiry into our limits and possibilities. This search brings great uncertainty and is accompanied by fundamental questions about what life, living systems, and nature in this world mean. The question of the Anthropocene forces us to reconsider the position of man’s relation to nature and the way we transmit new and necessary insights. One way to demonstrate the interconnectedness of humans with nature is through the world of microbes. Insight in the presence and activity of these invisible, but ubiquitous life forms becomes more and more important in times of overpopulation and scarcity, as microbes play a crucial role in all nutrient cycles. Their importance is not only evident for the ecosystems of our planet, but also for our health. The metabolic activity of microbes in our body forms an often neglected, but intrinsic factor of human physiology. Moreover, there is an accumulating amount of evidence that the lack of exposure to a diversity of microbes, associated with our modern life style in urban areas, contributes to the current epidemic of chronic inflammatory diseases. This course brings awareness for the potential of microbes for the benefit of our health and that of our planet, while educating students on the significance of human impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystems.


Thursday, January 16th  visit to Micropia, the world’s only microbe museum
By the end of this course, student will have:

•    Insight in human microbiome research, including techniques, big data analysis, its potential, and its limitations;
•    A thorough understanding of the link between microbes, personal health, and planetary health;
•    Completed a written innovative research proposal;
•    Acquainted with career paths for (microbiological) researchers
•    Familiarity with the Micropia microbe museum and its public   engagement practices.

Falony G, Vandeputte D, Caenepeel C, Vieira-Silva S, Daryoush T,     Vermeire S, Raes J (2019) The human microbiome in health and     disease: hype or hope. Acta Clin Belg. 74:53-64.

Prescott SL, Wegienka G, Logan AC, Katz DL. (2018) Dysbiotic drift and     biopsychosocial medicine: how the microbiome links     personal, public and planetary health. Biopsychosoc Med.     12:7.

Kort R, Westerik N, Mariela Serrano L, Douillard FP, Gottstein W,     Mukisa IM, Tuijn CJ, Basten L, Hafkamp B, Meijer WC,     Teusink B, de Vos WM, Reid G, Sybesma W (2015) A novel     consortium of Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Streptococcus     thermophilus for increased access to functional fermented     foods. Microb Cell Fact. 14:195.


Prof.Dr. Remco Kort

Kort’s expertise centers around molecular microbiology, photobiology and applied microbiological research with societal impact (80 publications). His current research focuses on the role of lactic acid bacteria in the human microbiota and fermented foods. He is the organizer of the annual lecture series The human microbiome in health and disease and its national Microbiome Award for MSc and PhD-students in ARTIS (since 2011). He authored the popular science book De microbemens (The microbe man, transl.) and co-developed ARTIS-Micropia, the only microbe museum in the world, which has been awarded with the Kenneth Hudson award for the most innovative museum in Europe. Kort has over 10 years of experience with research and innovations on the African continent, where he developed an educational program and a distribution network for a starter culture enabling production of probiotic yoghurt reaching over 250,000 people in East-Africa.

“Microbes offer a vast and unexplored potential benefitting human and planetary health.”

Each student will write a proposal (approximately 4-5 pages) related to the human microbiome.

The proposal will include:

1. An abstract;
2. The problem definition and aim;
3. The approach;
4. The application (medical, industrial applications);
5. 1-3 Figs; and a list of references (maximum of 15).

The proposal will be scored on originality, scientific quality, and feasibility. Students will include a summary of 5 slides and accompany it with a 5 minute presentation.