Microbiology is the study (logy) of very small (micro) living (bio) things. Microbiology is the study of microorganisms. These “bugs” include: bacteria (that’s the Latin plural for bacterium); viruses (that’s the non-Latin plural for virus – virii sounds weird, so I don’t say it); and, fungi (that’s the Latin plural for fungus – which by now you have guessed, or already knew, and may not be all that interested to know, anyway). Microbiology is actually made up of several sub-disciplines. Microbiology, one of the fastest growing areas of science, is the study of organisms so small that they must be viewed with a microscope. These organisms are primarily bacteria, yeasts, molds, and viruses. Many of the most important scientific discoveries of recent years have been made by microbiologists: since 1910, one-third of the Nobel Prizes in medicine and physiology have been awarded to microbiologists. They are concerned with the welfare of humankind, concentrating not only on aspects of host-microbial interactions influencing disease and immunity, but also on ecological concerns impacting food production and the environment. There is a great demand for microbiologists.
Graduates with a concentration in Microbiology find positions in the areas of medical, agricultural, food, industrial, or pharmaceutical microbiology, or microbial genetics or physiology. They may become teachers, science writers, technical librarians, or managers of scientific companies. Some of these professions require advanced degrees. The concentration in Microbiology is designed to furnish necessary experience in academic and practical skills to prepare graduates for immediate entry into the job market or for continuing graduate education in pure or applied biological sciences. Microbiology is the branch of science dealing with microorganisms. It is one of the most relevant, dynamic and exciting disciplines in the biological sciences.
Microorganisms benefit society by cycling inorganic and organic matter into molecules needed for life and detoxifying discarded wastes. Historically, they have served as microscopic factories for the production of cheeses, alcohol and antibiotics. Microorganisms have also been engineered to produce a wide variety of products for our benefit through the emergence of biotechnology. Microorganisms have, however, also inflicted great distress to human, animal and plant populations through disease, spoilage of crops, foods and the fouling and degradation of man-made structures. More recently, microorganisms have been used as terrorist weapons. Microbiology has become an umbrella term that encompasses many sub disciplines or fields of study. These include: – Bacteriology: the study of bacteria
– Mycology: fungi
– Protozoology: protozoa
– Phycology: algae
– Parasitology: parasites
– Virology: viruses
An understanding of these various life forms in the environment has created other sub disciplines of: microbial ecology, microbial physiology, microbial genetics and molecular biology. Our need to control infectious diseases has brought about the fields of pathology and immunology. Bioinformatics, the in silico research, is a new area of research in microbiology which analyzes the genomes of life forms. Microbiology is the study of microscopically small, living organisms, such as fungi, algae, protozoa and bacteria, which require a light microscope for observation, and viruses which are visible only under an electron microscope at more than 20 000x magnification, to increase scientific knowledge and develop medical, veterinary, industrial, environmental and other practical applications. Basic characteristics of the microorganisms, including their form, structure, physiology, growth, reproduction and genetics are studied in courses on mycology, yeast biology, bacteriology and the molecular biology of bacteria, viruses and yeasts.
Other courses deal with the composition, activities, ecology, practical importance and control of microbial populations of soil, water, food, plants, human and animal bodies, including disease-producing organisms, as well as industrial microbial fermentations. Microbiology is the study of all microscopic organisms, principally bacteria, fungi and viruses. Microbiology is one of the foundation biological sciences. Through study of microorganisms has come fundamental understanding of how a cell works. It is also an applied science, helping health and medicine, agriculture and maintenance of the environment, as well as the biotechnology industries. We study microorganisms at the level of the community (ecology and epidemiology), at the level of the cell (cell biology and physiology), at the level of protein and gene (molecular biology).
The fusion of these elements is Microbiology. Microbiology today is an integral part of molecular biology, the study of cellular information, which applies to all of biology. Apparently simple organisms, bacteria and viruses are very important to us. They cause a variety of diseases in humans, animals, and plants. Microbiology has benefited us tremendously in improved health care and agriculture. Through the efforts of microbiologists, diagnosis and treatment of bacterial and viral infections have become effective for most diseases. Bacteria and viruses are also an essential part of genetic engineering which has universal application in biological research and in biotechnology. Bacteria are widely used to produce antibiotics and other chemicals, to generate energy from biomass, and to detoxify environmental pollutants. The Microbiology Option offers a strong science foundation and advanced courses in molecular biology of microorganisms, in microbial diversity, in immunochemistry, and in pathogenic and food microbiology.
Many microbiology students graduate with a minor in chemistry although a minor is not required. An in-depth education in microbiology prepares you for academic and industrial research and development in many areas of biology as well as for investigations which focus on specific microorganisms or cellular systems. It also prepares you for advanced study in medicine and clinical microbiology and for graduate study in biology. Microbiology is the study of microorganisms – specifically, disease-causing microorganisms. Microbiology is responsible for identifying infectious agents in blood, urine, sputum, feces, cerebrospinal fluid, and other body fluids. The infectious agents are then tested for sensitivity to certain antibiotics used to treat infections. Bacteria are absolutely necessary for all life on this planet – for every known ecosystem – including the human ecosystem!
Without bacteria, there would be no life, as we call life, on the earth. However, it is a good thing that most bacteria die-out. Here is why: bacteria are single-cell organisms, that produce more of their kind by cell-division, alone. So, if one begins with a single bacterial cell like E. coli for example, in 20 minutes there will be two, and 20 minutes later, four, etc., E. coli cells. At this rate, even though most bacteria are several hundred-times smaller than we can see with our naked eye (never seen a clothed eye), in only 43 hours, from that one cell at the beginning, there would be enough E. coli to occupy the entire volume of the earth (1,090,000,000,000,000,000,000 cubic meters)! In only about two additional hours, these bacteria would weigh as much as the earth – 6,600,000,000,000,000,000,000 tons! Bummer! Luckily for us, most bacterial cells die because of the enormous competition for food, and because of other tiny organisms which produce substances (antibiotics) that kill them – you know, like penicillin, which is made by a particular fungus, the mold – Penicillium).
Thank goodness for that one, huh? Actually, many antibiotics are made by certain bacteria too, and, we get many of our necessary vitamins and nutrients from bacteria by allowing the bacteria to multiply in number, and isolating the things that they make, that we cannot make. For example, amino acid supplements are available (“enriched” bread simply means that the amino acid, lysine, which we absolutely need, but cannot make ourselves, is added to the flour used to make the bread), to provide one additional source which most people will eat. This amino acid is produced by certain bacteria grown in huge vats (can be 20,000 liters at one time – that’s about 1,500 gallons!), and purified for our use. Antibiotic production is similarly done. With the advent of molecular genetics and recombinant DNA technology, bacteria now play a very important role as producers of human substances. Since we have learned how genes function, we are able to introduce a human gene into a bacterium and have the product of the human gene expressed.
Consequently, a hormone called erythropoietin, which is absloutely necessary for the proper development of red blood cells (erythrocytes), but very, very, difficult to isolate, is now available in high quantity. People who do not have kidneys cannot make this hormone; however, because the hormone has been cloned into bacteria, plenty of this hormone can be made, purified, and given to these people. Human insulin can be similarly made. These are only two examples of the many substances now available to treat human disorders because of our understanding of bacteria. Scientists use two names to describe each kind of bacteria. The first is the genus name and second is the species name. When the names of the species and genus are written, the are italicized, or underlined. The genus name usually refers to the group to which the bacterium belongs, somewhat like our human family names, except it is listed first.
Many times the genus and species names (in the Latin or Greek language) are selected to describe some general feature of the bacterium. For example, the word used to describe the genus name, Streptococcus, tells us that it is a sphere-shaped cell (coccus) and that it occurs in chains (strepto). The species name is more specific and usually refers to the activity or habit of the organism. The species name lactis tells us that is associated with milk. To illustrate, then, we have the most common bacterium in dairy work: Streptococcus lactis. Once one becomes familiar with the various types of bacteria important to your work, “nicknames” are often used to describe the species of bacteria.
For example, Streptococcus lactis becomes “Strept. lactis”. If you want to refer to more than one species of bacteria that have some common characteristics, you can use another nickname, like Streps, referring to those several species of bacteria with characteristics like those found in the genus Streptococcus. One nickname commonly used in the dairy industry is E. coli which is short for Escherichia coli. With sometimes difficult names to pronounce, it is no wonder that people prefer bacterial nicknames!