Microbiology is the study of microscopic organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, archaea, fungi, and protozoa. Microbiological studies have been broadly divided into pure and applied science branches. Some of the pure /fundamental branches include Bacteriology, Virology, Mycology, Phycology, Protozoology, Microbial Physiology etc. The applied branches include Food, Industrial, medical, Environmental etc. Because of the immense roles that microbe’s play,

There are many different types of applied microbiology which can be briefly defined as follows:

Medical Microbiology:-Medical microbiology is the study of the pathogenic microbes and the role of microbes in human illness. This includes the study of microbial pathogenesis and epidemiology and is related to the study of disease pathology and immunology. It is used to understand types of microbial diseases; i.e. how diseases are caused by microbes. Their types of bacterial, viral, fungal etc. Even diagnosis of the disease-causing microbe is taught so as to give right drug and combat infection effectively. The identification of specific microbe is done by the help of microbiological assays.

Pharmaceutical Microbiology: –It is used for the production of medicines like antibiotics, enzymes, vaccines, insulin, vitamins, steroids and other pharmaceutical products. some of the substance is exclusively obtained from microbial cultures. Most antibiotics are obtained only from microbes. Vitamin-B12 (cyanocobalamin) is obtained from the culture of microbes. Similarly, human insulin for diabetics is purely obtained from the microbial culture by technology. Initially, diabetics were given an injection of insulin obtained from animals. But due to heavy demand and also compatibility problems (as it was animal derived), there was the need for some other source of human insulin. Then rDNA technique involving E.coli bacteria was adopted to produce large amounts of human insulin which are even safe.

Industrial Microbiology: – The exploitation of microbes for use in industrial processes. Examples include industrial fermentation and waste-water treatment. This field also includes brewing, an important application of microbiology.Microbiology is highly used in manufacturing and processing of drugs, alcohol, food etc.

Microbial Biotechnology: – The manipulation of microorganisms at the genetic and molecular level to generate useful products.

Food Microbiology and Dairy Microbiology: –The study of microorganisms causing food spoilage and food-borne illness. Microorganisms can produce foods, for example by fermentation.

Agricultural Microbiology

  • Environmental microbiology: The study of the function and diversity of microbes in their natural environments. This involves the characterization of key bacterial habitats such as the rhizosphere and phyllosphere, soil and groundwater ecosystems, open oceans or extreme environments (extremophiles). This field includes other branches of microbiology such as: microbial ecology (microbially-mediated nutrient cycling), geomicrobiology, (microbial diversity), water microbiology (the study of those microorganisms that are found in water), aeromicrobiology (the study of airborne microorganisms) and epidemiology (the study of the incidence, spread, and control of disease).
  • Natural Pesticides: Microorganisms like bacteria and virus are exploited against pest attacking farm crops. Hence they are called natural pesticides. They are so specific to the pests or insects and don’t cause any harm to the plant or animals and humans.
  • Natural manures: Few microbes like algae and bacteria are grown up to enhance soil fertility by fixing nitrogen and also water retaining the capacity of the soil. Thus they also maintain soil microbiology suitable for plant growth.
  • Decomposition of waste: Microbes decompose the synthetic pesticide residues and other toxic material in agriculture soil and thereby protect farms from toxin accumulation.
  • Waste water treatment: microbiology makes use of the biotechnological processes to treat the industrial and municipal wastewater. Microbes recycle nitrogen and methane gas through the method of fermentation from the wastewater.

Emerging areas of Microbiology

  • Exomicrobiology is a newly emerging field that includes the study of microorganisms in space and space like environment (exposing microorganisms to very harsh environment, like that in space).
  • Nanomicrobiology/Nanomicrobiology is study of microbiological samples by applying atomic force microscopy (AFM). It provides three-dimensional image of the cells and membranes at nanoscale which helps understand changes in microbial surfaces on interaction with drugs and other chemicals.

What should students keep in mind when they pursue microbiology?

To make a career in microbiology, candidates must be very strong in both basic and applied aspects of microbiology including special skills in laboratory techniques. For example, if their focus is on the fermentation industry, a strong background in industrial microbiology or fermentation technology is a must. For students pursuing pathology, add-on training in various lab investigations is a must. Students who want to upgrade their skills can opt for various certificate, diploma and short-term courses in different disciplines of microbiology offered by various universities and R&D centers.

Skills and knowledge Microbiologists need to have:

• knowledge of molecular biology and genetics, biochemistry and chemistry
• practical skills for performing experiments and operating scientific equipment
• knowledge of laboratory hazards and proper safety procedures
• skill in analyzing and interpreting research results and other information
• problem-solving skills
• presentation skills
• writing skills, for reports or grant proposals
• math and computer skills

What are the job options available to students who pursue microbiology?

Microbiology is offered at three levels -UG, PG and Ph.D. Students pursuing UG in microbiology can work at science laboratories and pathology labs. Microbiology graduates can pursue PG in microbiology. Once they complete their course, they can work in microbiology based industries like pharmaceutical, dairy, breweries, distilleries, enzyme, etc. Alternatively, they can also pursue their Ph.D. program. After a few years of experience, one can start a pathology laboratory. Students who complete Ph.D. can take up teaching at universities and PG colleges. They can also take up a post-doctoral research with good fellowship and contingency grants offered by funding agencies like UGC, CSIR, ICMR, DST, DBT, etc.

What Training and Education Are Required to Succeed?

Although many programs now offer formal microbiology/biotechnology instruction you will probably have to participate in extra-curricular activities (e.g., science fair projects or individualized study programs guided by your teacher or a scientist in the community) to supplement the material covered in these courses. Further exposure to industrial microbiology/biotechnology may be obtained by working during the summer in an industrial, university, or hospital microbiology laboratory; some of these positions may be in the form of internships. Your guidance counselor may also be helpful in identifying college, industry, and government-sponsored summer enrichment program for high school or undergraduate students.

What are the latest industry trends in this field?

Microbiology is the study of minute living organisms, which cannot be seen with the naked eye. Recent trends from the industry focus on production of totally new eukaryotic compounds like insulin, interferon, and other recombinant products, using micro-organisms in large quantities. There are a number of probiotic microbes being used in the manufacturing of various food and pharmaceutical products. Biofuels like bioethanol and biodiesel are being manufactured using new raw materials like lignocellulosics, algae and other biomass material to replace fossil fuels. Many new recombinant vaccines are produced to replace crude vaccines and make them polyvalent to reduce the dosage.