What is microbiology?

Microorganisms and their activities are vitally important to virtually all processes on Earth. Microorganisms matter because they affect every aspect of our lives – they are in us, on us and around us.

Microbiology is the study of all living organisms that are too small to be visible with the naked eye. This includes bacteria, archaea, viruses, fungi, prions, protozoa and algae, collectively known as 'microbes'. These microbes play key roles in nutrient cycling, biodegradation/biodeterioration, climate change, food spoilage, the cause and control of disease, and biotechnology. Thanks to their versatility, microbes can be put to work in many ways: making life-saving drugs, the manufacture of biofuels, cleaning up pollution, and producing/processing food and drink.

Microbiologists study microbes, and some of the most important discoveries that have underpinned modern society have resulted from the research of famous microbiologists, such as Jenner and his vaccine against smallpox, Fleming and the discovery of penicillin, Marshall and the identification of the link between Helicobacter pylori infection and stomach ulcers, and zur Hausen, who identified the link between papilloma virus and cervical cancer.

Microbiology research has been, and continues to be, central to meeting many of the current global aspirations and challenges, such as maintaining food, water and energy security for a healthy population on a habitable earth. Microbiology research will also help to answer big questions such as 'how diverse is life on Earth?', and 'does life exist elsewhere in the Universe'?

Introducing microbes

  • Bacteria

    More than just pathogens - can be friend or foe.

  • Viruses

    Smallest of all the microbes, but are they alive?

  • Fungi

    More than just mushrooms.

  • Protozoa

    Microbes with a taste for poo and so much more.

  • Algae

    Microbial powerhouses essential for life.

  • Archaea

    First found existing on the edge of life.

  • Prions

    Mysterious misfolding proteins.

Microbes in the world