Microbiology: Microbes, Versatility, Microbiologists, Origin and Uses

Although the microbiological knowledge available today is very broad, there is still much to know and new discoveries are constantly being made.

Wherever you look, even if you can not see them, there is a hidden world of microorganisms . Microbiology is the study of this hidden world of organisms that affect our health, help prepare our food and influence our environment.

Did you know that you are Mostly a Microbe?

There are more microbial cells in your body than your own cells. Microbes are found everywhere: inside and on your body, in streams and rocks, on your smartphone screen and in your food.

Despite their bad reputation, microbes are mostly beneficial or have a neutral effect on our lives.

Microbiology is the scientific study of all microscopic organisms (too small to be visible to the naked eye), this includes bacteria, viruses, archaea, fungi and protozoa and algae, collectively known as ‘microbes’.

This discipline includes fundamental research on biochemistry, physiology, cell biology, ecology, evolution and clinical aspects of microorganisms, including the host response to these agents.

Microorganisms and their activities are of vital importance to virtually all processes on Earth. Microorganisms are important because they affect all aspects of our lives: they are in us, in us and around us.

These microbes play a key role in the nutrient cycle, biodegradation / biodeterioration, climate change, deterioration of food, the cause and control of diseases and biotechnology.

Thanks to its versatility, microbes can be used in different applications:

  • Making medicines that save lives.
  • The manufacture of biofuels.
  • Cleaning up pollution
  • Producing / processing food and beverages.

Microbiologists study the microbes, and some of the most important discoveries that have underpinned modern society have resulted from the research of famous microbiologists, such as:

  • Jenner and his vaccine against smallpox.
  • Fleming and the discovery of penicillin.
  • Marshall and the identification of the link between Helicobacter infection by pylori and stomach ulcers.
  • Zur Hausen, who identified the link between papilloma virus and cervical cancer.

Research in microbiology has been and continues to be critical in meeting many of the aspirations and global challenges, such as maintaining food, water and energy security for a healthy population in a habitable land.

Research in microbiology will also help answer big questions such as “How diverse is life on Earth?” And “Is there life in the rest of the Universe?”

It is thanks to microbiology that AIDS is now more of a chronic than a deadly disease and that we can vaccinate children against all kinds of diseases. There would be no beer, yogurt or cheese without microbiology. An empty fridge.

Microbiology is everywhere and is becoming increasingly important.

Making the Invisible Visible

Microbiologists study these organisms using tools, such as microscopes, genetics and culture. Microscopes allow scientists to expand microbial cells that would otherwise be too small to see.

Genetics and molecular biology help scientists understand the evolutionary relationships between microbes and their habitats.

Microbiologists have all kinds of ways to make microbes visible and their construction and activities. Traditionally, these methods have included the use of special dyes, microscopy and the cultivation of microbes in Petri dishes.

Current researchers also make use of the genetic material of microbes. Currently there are many branches of microbiology, such as virology (the study of viruses), mycology (the study of fungi), parasitology (the study of parasites and their hosts) and bacteriology (the study of bacteria ).


The Dutchman Antoni van Leeuwenhoek is known as the founding father of microbiology. He was the first person to discover microorganisms. He did it using his own homemade microscopes.


It is the term used to describe growing microbes, usually combined with tests to see what microbes like to eat or under what conditions they can live. If you have ever seen a Petri dish, you have seen a common place where microbes are grown.

Petri Plate

Most of the microbes or bacteria in your body are meant to be there and are called resident bacteria. These bacteria are well-established residents of your body, especially the skin and intestine.

They are your first line of defense against potentially dangerous transient bacteria, that is, temporary bacteria that can pick up when you touch the door handle or near someone who sneezes.

Resident bacteria can usually compete with transient bacteria, which prevents them from settling down and causing an infection.

Microbiology makes it easier

Microbiology is increasingly focused on how microbes can be used, for example in the production of medicines, foods and biofuels. We have a surprising amount to thank microbiologists for.

So, in what other way do microbes help us? The next time you enjoy cheese, sausage and beer at a party, keep in mind that many of the foods and drinks we enjoy are not possible without microbes.

Dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, were made with microbes for centuries to extend the shelf life of milk. The process of fermentation is carried out by microbes and gives these items their characteristic taste, smell and texture.

Beer and wine also use microbes (in this case, yeast) to produce alcohol in those drinks.

Our lives are much easier thanks to the many products manufactured by or from microbes. These include antibiotics, flavor enhancers, dyes, bioethanol, enzymes and cheese.

In spite of all the good microbes, when we hear news about microbes, they are usually pathogens. Pathogens are the invading microbes in our bodies that make us sick.

In general, the reaction of our immune system against foreign microbial invaders is what produces the most serious symptoms, such as fever or stomach pain.

The infections of pathogenic bacteria can sometimes disappear by themselves or with the help of antibiotics. Antibiotics are the various medicines that fight bacteria by damaging proteins, the cell wall or making other harmful attacks against bacteria.

A bad side of antibiotics is that they can rarely distinguish between good and bad bacteria. With antibiotics, both the resident and transient bacteria are damaged, and while it will help eliminate an infection, it could also cause stomach pain.

Viruses are a different story. Viruses can only be reproduced using a host cell. Sometimes, this can be other bacteria, and sometimes it can be the cells in your body.

They are very simple agents, and as they lack several properties that we use to define living organisms, they are not even considered technically alive.