Microbiology: Complete Guide

Microbiology is an important sub sector of biology. It is essentially the study of biological organisms such as bacteria/archaea and plastic worms in their environments.

Microbiologists examine the lives and characteristics of organisms that are too small to be seen by the naked eye. 

By studying the characteristics and lives of different organisms, scientists can have a better understanding of what helps them live healthily in their environments.

It also allows us to see how these organisms can impact their surroundings and other organisms around them, such as animals and humans. 

Today, microbiology is considered to be one of the most important disciplines in biology.

Microbiology: Complete Guide

Not only do we have a better understanding of how different organisms behave thanks to this field of science, but we are not in much better positions to identify how some cause diseases.

Therefore, we can work on finding cures for these diseases. Microbiologists have also learned how to implement certain microbes into industrial fields.  

A few of the fields that microbiologists are specialized in include soil biology, biotechnology, biogeochemistry, microbial genetics, immunology, industrial biology, and aquatic microbiology. 

While microbiology is essentially regarded as the study of microorganisms, some groups of organisms, such as fungi and algae, do not necessarily require specialized tools in order to examine them.

This is why microbiology studies a number of organisms that do not fall into the traditional definition of microbes. 

Today, we are going to examine microbiology and discover more about this field of biology.

We will find out why microbiology is so important by looking at different branches of it and why it impacts all living things on the planet.

Microbiology: Why Is It So Important? 

There’s no doubt about the fact that microbes are incredibly important to all living things on Earth.

The many types of organisms play key roles in a range of biochemical processes on the planet such as climate change, biodegradation, biotechnology, biodeterioration, epidemiology, and food spoilage.

In other words, with microbes, Earth, as we know it, would not exist.

Microbiologists can use the power of microbes and use their benefits in sectors such as healthcare, agriculture, and food production. This is achieved by studying microbes in controlled settings. 

In the field of medicine, microbiologists are responsible for some of the most essential scientific breakthroughs in history.

Take Robert Koch, for example. He was the first to identify the causes of cholera, anthrax, and tuberculosis. Then, there was Edward Jenner, who invented the first smallpox vaccine.

There was also Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin, and Barry Marshall who found the connection between stomach ulcers and Helicobacter pylori infections.

Microbiologists and their findings have simply saved millions and millions of lives worldwide over the years. And, they continue to do so.

In essence, microbiology is life-saving.

Take this quote from the Microbiology Society, for instance.

This perfectly sums up how important this field of science is:

“Microbiology research has been, and continues to be, central to meeting many of the current global aspirations and challenges, such as maintaining food, water and energy security for a healthy population on a habitable earth. Microbiology research will also help to answer big questions such as ‘how diverse is life on Earth?’, and ‘does life exist elsewhere in the Universe’?”

The continuous work of microbiologists is essential not just to humans, but all animals and microorganisms on Earth.

Microbiologists are continuously looking at ways to clean up and reduce pollution, make agriculture more eco-friendly, and create a more eco-friendly way of producing food and drink. 

In recent years, the emergence of possible antibiotic-resistant bacteria has become more and more of a worry.

With the risk of more global pandemics occurring too, microbiologists are striving to create life-saving medicines, so societies worldwide can rely on them for sheer survival. 

Microbiology: Different Branches

There are a number of different branches in the field of microbiology. These are separated into different classifications known as ‘Pure’ and ‘Applied Sciences,’ as well as ‘Taxonomy.’

Let’s explore the different branches of microbiology below.

Bacteriology 

As the name suggests, bacteriology is concerned with bacteria. This singular branch of microbiology also breaks off into multiple specializations.

Some examples are marine bacteriology, systematic bacteriology, and agricultural bacteriology.

This branch of microbiology focuses on types of bacteria, their characteristics, applications, and diseases. Therefore, microbiologists can hopefully find cures for certain diseases caused by bacteria. 

Protozoology

This is one of the latest branches of microbiology and is based on taxonomy. This sub-discipline focuses on protozoa, organisms that include groups such as ciliates, sporozoans, amoeboids, and flagellates.

Many of these organisms have been associated with human and animal diseases, such as malaria and sleeping sickness.

Therefore, Protozoology focuses on the medical aspects of such bacteria as well as their morphological and taxonomy traits. 

Mycology

Mycologists study fungi that are eukaryotic in nature. This is different to bacteriology, which focuses on prokaryotic organisms.

Eukaryotic organisms are found in all sorts of environments, all over the world. The different types of fungi, such as yeast or mold, can be both harmful and beneficial to animals and humans. 

Mycology focuses on the various properties of eukaryotic organisms, such as their taxonomy and characteristics. Therefore, such organisms have been used in different sectors from food and brewers, to the medical industry. 

Phycology

Phycology is concerned with the study of multicellular organisms, like mycology. However, phycology studies different kinds of algae that are found in different environments, unlike mycology. 

Some types of algae can grow on seaweeds found in aquatic regions, as well as floating around in the ocean. Algae is an important part of the food chain but it is also critical in the production of oxygen.

Therefore, the work phycologists is very important for life on our planet. 

Immunology

Immunology

Studied by immunologists, immunology is a sub-discipline of microbiology that studies the immune system.

One of the most important areas of any scientific study, immunology’s main goal is to enhance the immune system so it can better protect our bodies against different diseases. 

Although diseases can be caused by different organisms and foreign elements, autoimmunity can also result in certain diseases.

Immunologists study the relationship between the body, the immune system, and pathogens to find how and why diseases occur. Once this has been discovered, they can work on cures.

Over the years, such work has resulted in significant scientific breakthroughs and the end of once common diseases in society. 

These studies continue, with diseases like Ebola being identified in various regions of the world.

Parasitology

This is one of the wider fields in microbiology and it is concerned with the study of parasites. In general, parasitologists study organisms found in three main groups. These include arthropods, helminths (worms), and protozoa. 

Parasitology is influenced by many disciplines, such as biochemistry and immunology, to name a few. And, like mycology, parasitology studies both multicellular and unicellular organisms. 

Virology

Again, as the name suggests, virology is the study of viruses. Viruses are unlike most other organisms as they are acellular microbes, rather than unicellular or multicellular.

Viruses have basic structures and require host cells in order to multiply sufficiently. Because they need host cells, viruses end up impacting those cells and, therefore, cause diseases. 

Virologists focus on other aspects, as well, such as biochemistry, molecular biology, distribution, and the evolution of viruses.

This helps the researchers understand the viruses better so they can develop cures for some of the most serious kinds out there, such as aids.

Nematology

Nematologists study multicellular nematodes, also referred to as roundworms. There are many types of organisms when it comes to nematodes that are found in different types of environments around the world.

These worms can be found in mud, sand, soil, and mountainous environments, to name just a few. 

Nematodes are actually considered to be one of the most abundant organisms on planet Earth. And, thanks to the field of nematology, researchers have been able to classify these worms based on their habitats and morphology.

This has also led researchers to discover if they cause diseases or not. 

Applied Microbiology

Applied microbiology focuses on how different organisms can be applied in certain processes. It also studies the impact these organisms can have on certain industries.

This is opposed to the study of organisms and their general characteristics, as with taxonomy. 

Some branches of applied microbiology are as follows:

Medical Microbiology

Medical microbiology is concerned with diagnosing, preventing, and treating diseases that are caused by various types of organisms, also known as infection agents.

This sub-sector of applied microbiology is also related to other fields such as immunology, bacteriology, virology, and germicrobiology.  

Food microbiology 

This is the study of microorganisms that can contaminate food and examples that can be used for food modification and processing.

Microbiology focuses heavily on microorganisms such as yeasts, molds, and bacteria that can either benefit or have negative consequences on food material. The main concern in mind is public health. 

Food microbiology is also related to other fields like molecular biology and immunology. It studies food ingredients, food production, and fermentation amongst many other aspects of food processing and preservation. 

Agricultural Microbiology

Concerned with the study of microbes that are associated with animal and plant diseases, agricultural microbiology also studies agricultural production.

Therefore, it is not only concerned with the medical side of such organisms. Researchers also study the economic importance of these organisms for farmers and the whole agricultural industry. 

The main goal of agricultural microbiology is to solve certain problems found within agriculture, whilst also looking for ways to increase yields for those who work in the industry. 

Industrial Microbiology

Industrial microbiology studies the use of certain microorganisms for industrial purposes and production. Researchers aim to find ways of increasing yields in different industries, such as pharmaceutical, fuel, and chemical.

Other Branches Of Microbiology Based On Application 

Other Branches Of Microbiology Based On Application 

A few other branches of microbiology based on application are as follows:

  • Pharmaceutical microbiology  – this is concerned with the study and use of microorganisms that prevent contamination. This also studies the development of such microorganisms for pharmaceuticals.
  • Soil microbiology – this studies soil microorganisms and their effects on different soil environments and properties.
  • Veterinary microbiology – this branch studies microbes that cause different diseases.
  • Microbial biotechnology – the main aim of microbial biotechnology is to find its beneficial purposes for everyday life.

Pure Life Sciences

As well as taxonomy, microbiology is classified into pure sciences, too. Some of the most common sub categories are:

  • Microbial genetics – this is concerned with the makeup of an organism. Researchers look to find various strains and phenotypes of organisms before classifying them appropriately.
  • Microbial cytology – researchers in this field deal with the function and structures of organisms.
  • Microbial ecology – this branch studies the bandit and surroundings of an organism. Therefore, researchers can better understand how a given organism affects and interacts with its environment.
  • Microbial physiology – this deals with varying components and the usual functions of organisms.

What Microbiologists Do?

We’ve all heard of microbiologists, but not many people know what these researchers do. Overall, microbiologists work tirelessly to try and solve certain issues that affect our environment, climate, food, agriculture, and, of course, our health. 

The tasks microbiologists perform tend to be determined by who they are employed by. But, the most common tasks include:

  • Studying the diagnosis, prevention, and control of different diseases and infections.
  • Studying and understanding the role that different microbes play in our environment and how they affect climate change.
  • Working to ensure that the food and drink the general public consume is safe to do so.
  • Developing different types of green technologies. 

The responsibilities of microbiologists can also vary depending on the field of microbiology they are in, their location, and employer. Some key responsibilities include:

  • Collecting and analyzing data before interpreting what it means. 
  • Carefully planning and performing trials.
  • The preparation of samples and the tracking of microbe development in controlled spaces and environments.
  • Researching and writing reports, reviews, and scientific papers.
  • Developing new products such as vaccines and drugs.
  • The management of laboratories to ensure that they maintain a high level of safety standards. 

Most microbiologists work in offices, hospitals, or laboratory environments. Here, they will spend their time conducting experiments and analyzing the results they find.

As for the hours they work, it tends to be full time, 9 to 5 but, of course, this can vary from one to the other. 

As for the industries microbiologists work in, these can be varied. Examples include healthcare, government, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, education, and environment, but there are many others.

One thing they all have in common, however, is that the work they do is critically important for all living organisms on Earth. 

In Summary

Microbiology is concerned with the study of microorganisms so we can have a better understanding of how they live. This can help researchers find cures of certain diseases.

Not only this, but different branches of microbiology study many sectors such as the environment, agriculture, and food.

The importance of microbiology is not to be underestimated.

Over the last few hundred years, research by many microbiologists has led to life-saving discoveries and, overall, a safer world for all of us to live in today.  

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Jennifer Dawkins

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