Microbiology is the study of microorganisms. This includes both single-celled organisms and very small clusters of cells. These organisms are usually so tiny that scientists need to use microscopes to see them. Given the diversity of this part of the world, scientists divided their discipline into different branches so they can specialize in specific areas of microbiology.
Bacteriology is the study of bacteria, which are small microorganisms that can be very harmfulor highly beneficial. Some scientists study other microorganisms. When scientists study other microorganisms, such as the protozoa, algae, parasites and fungi, they are called protozoologists, phycologists, parasitologists and mycologists respectively. Fungi are organisms with cell walls that contain chitin. Fungi get their food by decomposing matter. Algae are simple organisms that acquire food through photosynthesis. Parasites are organisms that live off host organisms. Protozoa are microorganisms that can often move around with structures like flagella and cilia. They sometimes consume other organisms, like animals do, by either surrounding the food and engulfing it or sweeping the food into pores and then digesting food in the stomach.
Immunology is the study of the immune system. Immunologists study both innate immunity and acquired immunity. They study how the human body generates an immune response and immunological cross-reaction, which is the reaction between antibodies and antigens. Antigens are particles in the body that trigger immune responses. Scientists also study the nature of antigen receptors, including the antibiotic structure.
Cellular microbiology focuses on the interactions between complex systems of tissues and pathogens and other microorganisms. Cellular microbiology covers topics, such as the modification of cell signaling pathways, interactions between pathogens, tissue and organ responses, host cell structure exploitation and immune responses. Cellular microbiology and immunology sometimes overlap, but immunology focuses specifically on the immune system.
Microbial ecologists seek to understand how the environment influences the evolution and diversity of microorganisms. Microbial ecology has become more common due to molecular tools that allow scientists to study aspects of microbial diversity, especially at the phenotype level.
Evolution and Genetics
Microbial genetics focuses on basic cellular functions of bacteria, bacteriophages and fungi, gene expression and molecular mechanisms of recombination. Recombina is if a nucleic acid molecule is broken and then combined with another one. Scientists look at how the genetic code influences the behavior of microorganisms. Research covers the development-specific gene expression, microbial genomics, the evolution of new catabolic pathways and RNA polymerases. Catabolic pathways are pathways that break molecules into smaller parts. RNA polymerases are the enzymes that create RNA.
A similar discipline is evolutionary microbiology, which is where scientists study the ways in which microorganisms adapt to their environment. This discipline has two subsections: microbial systematics and microbial taxonomy. Taxonomy focuses on the classification of microorganisms and microbial systematics focuses on microbial genetic diversity.
Applied microbiology refers to the use of knowledge related to practical functions, such as food microbiology, industrial microbiology, medical microbiology and microbial biotechnology. One significant area is environmental microbiology, which studies the diversity of microbes in natural environments. This branch has its own sub-branches, including bioremediation and microbial mediated nutrient cycling.
- Berkley University: Introduction to the Bacteria
- University of Warwick; An Introduction to Immunology; April 2011
- Georgetown University; Cellular Microbiology; August 2004
- Rutgers University; Microbial Genetics
- University of Hawaii; Biogeography: An Emerging Cornerstone for Understanding Prokaryotic Diversity, Ecology, and Evolution; Alban Ramette and James M. Tiedje; November 2006
- Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
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