AskDefine | Define microbiology

Dictionary Definition

microbiology n : the branch of biology that studies microorganisms and their effects on humans

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. The branch of biology that deals with microorganisms, especially their effects on man and other living organisms.


branch of biology dealing with microorganisms
  • Dutch: microbiologie
  • Finnish: mikrobiologia
  • French: microbiologie
  • Ido: mikrobiologio
  • Japanese: 微生物学
  • Novial:
  • Portuguese: microbiologia

Extensive Definition

Microbiology is the study of microorganisms, which are unicellular or cell-cluster microscopic organisms. This includes eukaryotes such as fungi and protists, and prokaryotes such as bacteria and certain algae. Viruses, though not strictly classed as living organisms, are also studied. Microbiology is a broad term which includes virology, mycology, parasitology and other branches. A microbiologist is a specialist in microbiology.
Microbiology is actively researched, and the field is advancing continually. We have probably only studied about one percent of all of the microbe species on Earth. Although microbes were first observed over three hundred years ago, the field of microbiology can be said to be in its infancy relative to older biological disciplines such as zoology and botany.



The existence of microorganisms was hypothesized for many centuries before their actual discovery in the 17th century. The first theories on microorganisms was made by Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro in a book titled On Agriculture in which he warns against locating a homestead in the vicinity of swamps: This passage seems to indicate that the ancients were aware of the possibility that diseases could be spread by yet unseen organisms.
In The Canon of Medicine (1020), Abū Alī ibn Sīnā (Avicenna) stated that bodily secretion is contaminated by foul foreign earthly bodies before being infected. He also hypothesized on the contagious nature of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, and used quarantine as a means of limiting the spread of contagious diseases.
When the Black Death bubonic plague reached al-Andalus in the 14th century, Ibn Khatima hypothesized that infectious diseases are caused by "minute bodies" which enter the human body and cause disease.
The field of bacteriology (later a subdiscipline of microbiology) is generally considered to have been founded by Ferdinand Cohn (1828–1898), a botanist whose studies on algae and photosynthetic bacteria led him to describe several bacteria including Bacillus and Beggiatoa. Cohn was also the first to formulate a scheme for the taxonomic classification of bacteria. Louis Pasteur (18221895) and Robert Koch (18431910) were contemporaries of Cohn’s and are often considered to be the founders of medical microbiology. Pasteur is most famous for his series of experiments designed to disprove the then widely held theory of spontaneous generation, thereby solidifying microbiology’s identity as a biological science. Pasteur also designed methods for food preservation (pasteurization) and vaccines against several diseases such as anthrax, fowl cholera and rabies. While his work on the Tobacco Mosaic Virus established the basic principles of virology, it was his development of enrichment culturing that had the most immediate impact on microbiology by allowing for the cultivation of a wide range of microbes with wildly different physiologies. Winogradsky was the first to develop the concept of chemolithotrophy and to thereby reveal the essential role played by microorganisms in geochemical processes. He was responsible for the first isolation and description of both nitrifying and nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
A variety of biopolymers, such as polysaccharides, polyesters, and polyamides, are produced by microorganisms. Microorganisms are used for the biotechnological production of biopolymers with tailored properties suitable for high-value medical application such as tissue engineering and drug delivery. Microorganisms are used for the biosynthesis of xanthan, alginate, cellulose, cyanophycin, poly(gamma-glutamic acid), levan, hyaluronic acid, organic acids, oligosaccharides and polysaccharide, and polyhydroxyalkanoates.
Microorganisms are beneficial for microbial biodegradation or bioremediation of domestic, agricultural and industrial wastes and subsurface pollution in soils, sediments and marine environments. The ability of each microorganism to degrade toxic waste depends on the nature of each contaminant. Since most sites are typically comprised of multiple pollutant types, the most effective approach to microbial biodegradation is to use a mixture of bacterial species and strains, each specific to the biodegradation of one or more types of contaminants.
There are also various claims concerning the contributions to human and animal health by consuming probiotics (bacteria potentially beneficial to the digestive system) and/or prebiotics (substances consumed to promote the growth of probiotic microorganisms).


Further reading

  • Medicine, health, and bioethics : essential primary sources
  • Bio-Communication of Bacteria and its Evolutionary Interrelations to Natural Genome Editing Competences of Viruses.
microbiology in Afrikaans: Mikrobiologie
microbiology in Aragonese: Microbiolochía
microbiology in Arabic: علم الأحياء الدقيقة
microbiology in Asturian: Microbioloxía
microbiology in Bulgarian: Микробиология
microbiology in Catalan: Microbiologia
microbiology in Czech: Mikrobiologie
microbiology in Danish: Mikrobiologi
microbiology in German: Mikrobiologie
microbiology in Modern Greek (1453-): Μικροβιολογία
microbiology in Esperanto: Mikrobiologio
microbiology in Spanish: Microbiología
microbiology in Basque: Mikrobiologia
microbiology in Finnish: Mikrobiologia
microbiology in Faroese: Smáverulívfrøði
microbiology in French: Microbiologie
microbiology in Irish: Micribhitheolaíocht
microbiology in Hebrew: מיקרוביולוגיה
microbiology in Croatian: Mikrobiologija
microbiology in Indonesian: Mikrobiologi
microbiology in Iloko: Microbiolohia
microbiology in Italian: Microbiologia
microbiology in Japanese: 微生物学
microbiology in Korean: 미생물학
microbiology in Kurdish: Hûrjînewerzanist
microbiology in Latin: Microbiologia
microbiology in Lithuanian: Mikrobiologija
microbiology in Latvian: Mikrobioloģija
microbiology in Macedonian: Микробиологија
microbiology in Dutch: Microbiologie
microbiology in Norwegian: Mikrobiologi
microbiology in Occitan (post 1500): Microbiologia
microbiology in Polish: Mikrobiologia
microbiology in Portuguese: Microbiologia
microbiology in Quechua: Mikru Kawsay Yachay
microbiology in Romanian: Microbiologie
microbiology in Russian: Микробиология
microbiology in Simple English: Microbiology
microbiology in Slovenian: Mikrobiologija
microbiology in Albanian: Mikrobiologjia
microbiology in Serbian: Микробиологија
microbiology in Sundanese: Mikrobiologi
microbiology in Swedish: Mikrobiologi
microbiology in Thai: จุลชีววิทยา
microbiology in Tagalog: Mikrobiyolohiya
microbiology in Turkish: Mikrobiyoloji
microbiology in Ukrainian: Мікробіологія
microbiology in Vietnamese: Vi sinh vật học
microbiology in Chinese: 微生物学

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