Microbiologists study the biology and chemistry of micro-organisms , e.g. bacteria, viruses and fungi. They study, analyses and collects information about both plant and animal life work in almost every industry such as in agriculture, food production, medicine and pharmaceuticals .
There are many different types of Microbiologists such as bacteriologists (bacteria), virologists (viruses), mycologists (fungi) and immunologists (the immune system).
Microbiologists study life forms like protozoa, bacteria and viruses that are too small to be seen without using a microscope. These organisms are known as microbes or micro-organisms . Some microbes cause disease but most are harmless, and some can be used to benefit humans. Microbiologists deal with both types of microbe in the water industry.
Other microbiologists work in research laboratories, investigating conditions like AIDS or malaria. They study the structure of microbes, how they reproduce and grow, and the chemical reactions within them. Microbiologists develop drugs and vaccines. Their studies can take years and involve many changes to tests and experiments.
In hospitals, they may find the microbes responsible for a patient’s illness. They take a sample of cells from the patient and grow these in a special dish, uncontaminated by any other microbes. The results can help doctors to diagnose and treat illness.
In the pharmaceutical and biochemical industries, microbiologists research, produce and test products like antiseptics, disinfectants, cosmetics, vitamins, antibiotics and vaccines.
In food and drinks companies, microbiologists improve existing products and develop new ones. The process of making beer, wine, bread and yogurt involves micro-organisms. The microbiologist makes sure hygiene standards are maintained and checks the safety of food. They may look for ways to dispose of, or recycle waste safely and economically.
Microbiologists also play an important role in molecular biology and genetic engineering. These techniques can be used to change a microbe so that it works more effectively, or makes a useful product. For example, insulin, which is lacking in people who have diabetes, has been made from genetically engineered bacteria.
Personal Qualities and Skills
As a microbiologist, you will need the ability to plan and do practical experiments, using technical equipment and computers. Be able to identify, select, organise and communicate information.
You will need a logical approach to problem solving, and must be accurate, methodical, patient and with analytical skills. Good written and oral communication skills are needed to present your findings, and work on your own or as part of a team.
Entry Routes and Training
The usual entry is through a degree in science, taking microbiology as a major subject. Students, however, who wish to specialise in certain branches of microbiology may proceed through other degree courses. A person, for instance, wishing to specialise in Food Microbiology could take a primary degree in Food Science. A primary degree in Agriculture, Medicine or Veterinary Medicine could lead to a career in Agricultural or Medical Microbiology.
The minimum entry requirements in most institutions are Leaving Certificate with specific grades in five subjects, including Mathematics, English and preferably one Science subject.