Microbiology is the science that studies microorganisms— organisms that we cannot see with the naked eye, but need a microscope to observe. These can be fungi, viruses, bacteria, or even minuscule human material, such as DNA. The term “microbiology” originated from three Greek words meaning “small”, “life” and “science”.
In Ancient India and Classical Rome (more than two millennia ago), the sages wrote of diminutive beings that populated the world, unseen by humans. Through the centuries, we have learned more and more about these forms of life and their effects on us. We have also found out how to manipulate them for our own benefit.
It was through microbiology that we discovered the life-changing innovation of antibiotics, which makes us much healthier than any human population before modern times. We developed ways— such as pasteurization— to make our food safer to eat, ways to create vaccines to keep us from getting ill and means to dabble in genetic engineering. Microbiology is, nowadays, more alive than ever.
Branches of microbiology
Microbiology is a complex science, and its different branches are wide-reaching and interdependent, so classification is difficult. It is mainly divided into subdisciplines that are:
- pure (studying the microorganisms in themselves),
- and applied (their possible uses).
For the first kind, we can list bacteriology (the study of bacteria), virology (the study of viruses), micology (which concerns fungi), and cellular microbiology (which deals with cell biology on a microscopic level), among many others. Within the second kind, we find medical and pharmaceutical microbiology, food microbiology, and environmental microbiology. Many of these overlap: cooperation is crucial for scientific advances.
The importance of microbiology in our modern world
Curiosity has always been the engine of human development. There are infinite, unexplored possibilities in the world of microorganisms, and every new discovery is a potential breakthrough for mankind.
Microbiology is crucial, as explained above, in the progress of many disciplines. High-ranking among these is medicine: we need to find the roots and factors for life-threatening diseases in order to cure them. This branch of science may allow us to rid our world of much suffering.
Understanding the world we live in can help us develop more sustainable ways of production and existence. We could design genes for better crops, more tenable energy sources, cleaner water for populations, and much more. If we want to keep inhabiting this planet, we need to take care of it— and microbiology is the way we can achieve this.