BASIC AND APPLIED MICROBIOLOGY

Microbiology is both an applied and basic aspect of biological science. The importance of this field of science can be seen or indicated in the numerous Nobel Prizes given out to microbiologists in the past and even now for their work in physiology or medicine. Microbiology has an impact on many fields including medicine, agriculture, biochemistry, food science, ecology, genetics and molecular biology. Microbiologists may be interested in specific types of organisms which depict what they are eventually called. These basic areas of microbiology are:

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  1. Virology: This aspect or area of microbiology is studied by virologists. Virologists are microbiologists that study viruses including pathogenic and non-pathogenic viruses.
  2. Bacteriologists: This aspect or area of microbiology is studied by bacteriologists. Bacteriologists are microbiologists that study bacteria including pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria.
  3. Mycologists: This aspect or area of microbiology is studied by mycologists. Mycologists are microbiologists that study fungi including pathogenic and non-pathogenic fungi.
  4. Protozoologists: This aspect or area of microbiology is studied by protozoologists. Protozoologists are microbiologists that study protozoa including pathogenic and non-pathogenic protozoa.
  5. Phycologists or Algologists: This aspect or area of microbiology is studied by phycologists or algologists. They are microbiologists that study algae.

These basic aspects of microbiology are interested in finding out important facts about microorganisms especially as it relates to their metabolism, nutrition, growth and reproduction. This information when gathered can be applied to produce specific goods and services that are of economic importance. For example, microbiologists may be interested in studying certain bacteria to know about their metabolic activities so that they can be used to produce certain goods or or tangible products such as antibiotics, used for the treatment of infectious diseases caused by another group of pathogenic bacteria. Microbiology as a career can be very fulfilling and rewarding owing to the fact that this field is now ripe with varying opportunities for those who wish to seek a profession in it. World over, microbiologists are invaluable as they are now on the fore front of virtually all sciences including but not limited to medicine where they help and assist medical doctors and other health professionals in the fight against infectious diseases which are caused by pathogenic microorganisms. Microbiologists also play important roles in the public health sector, university, education, research, government, and the food and beverage industries to mention but a few. With all of this in addition to acquainting one’s self to the most exciting aspect of the biological sciences (microbiology), students of microbiology has so many options in microbiology, with which they can turn around their love for biology into a more challenging, fulfilling and rewarding career as a microbiologist in any field of endeavour.

Applied microbiology is the application of the knowledge of microbiology (i.e., the understanding and capabilities of microbes) to solving tangible or practical problems especially, but not limited to the area of biotechnology, agriculture, medicine, pharmacy, food microbiology and bioremediation. It isthe application of microbes for the production of products that are of economic importance to man, plants, animals and the environment. Applied microbiology is the application of the knowledge of microbiology and microbes to produce useful products such as antibiotics, beverages, wine, cheese, yoghurt, ethanol/alcohol and bread that are beneficial to man and his environment. In applied microbiology, the metabolic potentials of beneficial microorganisms inclusive of those that cause disease are exploited in a beneficial way to solve problems in the environment as well as develop drugs, vaccines and other therapeutics that are used to treat and manage infectious diseases or infections caused by pathogenic microorganisms including pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa.

Microbiologists are scientists who specialize in the study of microorganisms. Disease-causing microorganisms are generally known as pathogens. Pathogenic bacteria, pathogenic fungi, pathogenic protozoa and pathogenic viruses are of clinical or medical importance because of the infections and diseases that they cause. Microbiology also employs techniques such as the use of culture media as earlier said for the successful isolation, identification and growth of pure cultures of microorganisms. Other techniques employed by microbiologists in the study of microbes include but not limited to sterilization techniques, staining technique, identification technique and microscopy. These techniques are employed by microbiologists for the isolation and identification of microbes from both environmental and hospital samples. It is of particular interest to mention that the field of microbiology would not have been anticipated or fully developed without the successful development of a tool – “the microscope” – which made the field of microbiology to be outstanding amongst the other biological sciences such as biochemistry.

The singular discovery of the microscope made it possible to see or visualize microorganisms (which are organisms too small to be seen by the naked eyes) which existed unknown for a very long period of time. There exists a long list of microorganisms (both harmless and pathogenic organisms) in the universe, and these organisms have greatly impacted humanity both positively (for example, in the industry for the production of antibiotics and foods) and negatively (for example, in the development and propagation of infectious diseases) even till date. And as mans knowledge about the microbial world continuously evolves, so will new microorganisms be discovered, identified and classified. And this discovery of new microorganisms will add up to the list of already known microscopic organisms. Regardless of the wealth of knowledge that microbiologist’s across the world have about the usefulness, importance and the available number or microorganisms, there still abound a lot to be uncovered about the microbial world especially in this 21st century and even into the future. The field of microbiology therefore holds its discovery to the development of the microscope from its crude form to the plethora of sophisticated microscopes including the electron microscopes and confocal laser scanning microscopes (CLSM) that are now available for detailed study of microbes.

Microorganisms positively and negatively influence the existence of life on earth in countless unimaginable ways. As diseases and new microbes continue to emerge, a new level of knowledge and understanding about these ubiquitous organisms is essential to unravel their latest potential in order to effectively manage and contain their excesses, especially the diseases and infections that they cause. Though some microbial diseases such as the dreaded acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and a handful of re-emerging and microbial emerging diseases such as Ebola are still having their toll on mankind and giving the microbes the upper hand, the medical community and microbiologists are working assiduously and round the clock to bring these infectious diseases under tolerable containment, and possible eradication. The new areas of molecular biology, genetic engineering, bioinformatics, nanotechnology/nanomedicine and DNA sequencing technique coupled with the complete sequencing of some microorganism’s genome including that of human’s holds huge potential to unleash new frontiers in the study of microbiology. This is possible especially in the sustainable containment of antibiotic resistance amongst pathogenic microorganisms through the development of more effective and novel antibiotics that will be less-amenable to antibiotic resistance genes or antibiotic-degradative enzymes of microbial origin.

Microorganisms are ubiquitous organisms. This implies that they are found everywhere. Microbes also exist in places where life rarely exists such as in the hot springs, icebergs and other desiccated (dry) part of the environment. An understanding of their power and mode of action and on how their activities directly or indirectly impact humanity and other living organisms in the environment, will improve on man’s quality of life as well as the wellbeing of animals, plants and the environment. The production of some biopharmaceuticals including insulin, interferon, and other recombinant products for the medical, industrial and biomedical sciences has been greatly enhanced by the activities of microorganisms. Microorganisms are currently used in the food and biotechnology industry to produce various food supplements especially probiotics (with improved nutritional capabilities) for both man and animals. Irrespective of the fact that some microorganisms are implicated as major causative agents of a handful of infectious diseases in man, plants and animals, there are numerous microbes that are used industrially to produce goods and services that are very beneficial to man and his environment.

One typical example of the application of microbes or their products to better the lives of man, his animals and the environment is the production of probiotics. Probiotics are preparations of bacterial cultures (for example, Lactobacillus species) which have health benefits when consumed. For example, some probiotics have been discovered to replenish the normal microflora of the gastrointestinal tract especially in cases when the normal flora of the gut have been destabilized or eroded by antimicrobial agents and other predisposing factors. Some probiotics helps to prevent infection in the individuals aside its function as a food supplement. There are a handful of food products such as vinegar and yogurt that contain some inoculums of beneficial microorganisms which confer therapeutic and nutritive benefits to the animals or human hosts taking them. The significance of microbiology and microorganisms in the 21st century cannot be overemphasized because mankind benefits a lot from them; and the activities of microbes impacts on the entire ecosystem in various ways either beneficially or harmfully. This is why it is important to study microbes in order to better understand them, and thus, benefit from their powers.

Further reading

Brooks G.F., Butel J.S and Morse S.A (2004). Medical Microbiology, 23rd edition. McGraw Hill Publishers. USA. Pp. 248-260.

Madigan M.T., Martinko J.M., Dunlap P.V and Clark D.P (2009). Brock Biology of microorganisms. 12th edition. Pearson Benjamin Cummings Publishers. USA. Pp.795-796.

Nester E.W, Anderson D.G, Roberts C.E and Nester M.T (2009). Microbiology: A Human Perspective. Sixth edition. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc, New York, USA.

Prescott L.M., Harley J.P and Klein D.A (2005). Microbiology. 6th ed. McGraw Hill Publishers, USA. Pp. 296-299.

Singleton P and Sainsbury D (1995). Dictionary of microbiology and molecular biology, 3d ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Slonczewski J.L, Foster J.W and Gillen K.M (2011). Microbiology: An Evolving Science. Second edition. W.W. Norton and Company, Inc, New York, USA.

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