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Want to Study Microbiology? Here's What You Need to Know

Microbiology is a fascinating study of miniscule organisms which help run the world. Find out more below.
BY Vindhya Vatsyayan |   20-01-2016

Meet Microbes – Your Invisible Neighbours
“Without microbes, we couldn’t eat or breathe. Without us, they’d probably be just fine.”

Microbes live with us, and within us, but are invisible to the human eye. In fact, for a single human cell, there are ten microbes in the average human body. Most are not harmful – they help us to fight infection, digest food, even treat depression.  Outside too, they can be our friends – curdling milk (Lactobacillus), cleaning up oil spills (Alcanivorax), and fighting nuclear contamination (Geobacter). This is the good.

The bad, as we know, is that microbes are a significant threat. According to the World Health Organization, a new disease emerges every four months, with poorer countries being the worst hit.

What is Microbiology?

Microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms: bacteria, viruses, archaea, fungi and protozoa. A microbiologist studies the physiological, biochemical and genetic aspects of microorganisms.

What Does a Microbiologist Do?

If you think that being a microbiologist means sitting in a lab all day, examining slides - think again!

Part of your job might involve looking at slides. But, you could also be journeying to the wild Amazonian forests, microscope and all, seeking out new species of microbes. You could be face to face with the deadliest creatures on Earth, as you track down killers such as Ebola and Hantavirus. You could float in Zero-G as you study microbe growth aboard the Space Shuttle. You could watch fish swim past your submarine’s window. You could climb up the sides of volcanoes. (Science is Boring and Other Myths- MicrobeWorld).

Microbiology offers a number of choice specialisations. You can learn about a few here.

Pure Microbiology

In this field, scientists study and explore a particular group of microorganisms in order to understand them better. They study the structure, function, and classification of specific group of organisms and find ways of both exploiting and controlling their activities. Fields of pure microbiology include bacteriology (bacteria), mycology (fungi), phycology (algae), parasitology (parasites), virology (viruses), immunology (immune system), and nematology (nematodes).

Medical Microbiology

Medical Microbiology is the study of disease causing microorganisms. It identifies ways to prevent, diagnose and treat infections. It also involves review of the immune system and focusing on the body's response to invading microorganisms. The field focuses on the mechanisms of infection, characteristics of the infecting microorganism, to understand the framework of the clinical behavior of the pathogens.

Applied Microbiology

Applied Microbiology explores microbes’ abilities to make medicines, industrial enzymes, and food ingredients. This includes industrial microbiology, in which scientists use microorganisms to develop products. Depending on the product, it further gets divided into food microbiology, dairy microbiology, and pharmaceutical microbiology.

An example of Applied Microbiology isYakult, a probiotic drink, contains 6.5 billion beneficial bacteria that reach our intestines alive, and restore the balance of the beneficial or friendly bacteria in the gut. Also, the flavour of cheese and wine depends on the bacteria which help make them.

Environmental Microbiology

Environmental Microbiology is devoted to the study of microbial processes in the environment, microbial communities, and microbial interactions. It involves solving environmental problems by using microbes in bioremediation, and exploring oceans, caves, deserts, and even Antarctica's ice to learn how microbes affect the workings of our planet.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “The microbiology of the space environment have long been a concern for the researchers. There is a need to focus on the microbiological implications of long-term space travel and habitation, with the International Space Station serving as one of the primary sites for further study.”

Agricultural Microbiology

This involves the study of the role of microbes in agriculture. Many microbes - fungi, bacteria and viruses cause a number of plant diseases, but at the same time play an important role in a number of critical agricultural processes, like soil fertility, microbial degradation of organic matter, nitrogen fixing activity, and the use of microbes as bio-fertilizers.

“I play with microbes. There are, of course, many rules to this play...but when you have acquired knowledge and experience it is very pleasant to break the rules and to be able to find something nobody has thought of.”- Sir Alexander Fleming (Scottish bacteriologist and Nobel Prize winner, best known for his discovery of penicillin).



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