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Introduction to Microbiology

Dr. Linroy Christian

Definition of Microbiology

• The study of microorganisms

– Organisms too small to be seen by the naked eye

– Objects < 0.1 mm cannot be perceived by the human eye

• Bacteria, fungi, viruses, algae, protozoa

• Characteristics of microorganisms

– Unicellular

– Free of organelles

– Generally prokaryotic, but some are eukaryotic

Aspects of Microbiology- What Microbiology is all about?

• It is about:

– living cells and how they work

– Free-living microorganisms and their importance, in particular the bacteria

– Microbial diversity and evolution and how different kinds of microbes arose and why

– How microbes impact on human society, in our bodies and in animals and plants

– The central role of microbes in basic biological science leading to an understanding of higher organisms

Why Study Microbiology?

• Two major reasons

• (1) As a basic biological science, microbiology provides access to research tools for probing the nature of life processes. A general understanding of chemical and physical principles has arisen from the study of microorganisms

• (2) As an applied science, microbiology deals with many important practical problems in medicine, agriculture and industry:

– Human, animal and plant diseases

– Soil fertility

– Human life and industry

Impact of Microorganisms on Human Affairs

• Disease

• Agriculture

– Nitrogen fixation

– Rumen digestion

– Cycling of nutrients

– disease

• Food industry

– Cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, baked goods, alcoholic beverages

• Energy

– Methane production, crude oil degradation, alternative sources of energy

• Chemotherapy

– Production of antibiotics

• Biotechnology

– Genetic engineering, insulin production in Escherichia coli

The History of Microbiology

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek

• Dutch amateur microscope maker in the 17 th century

• Invented the simple microscope and was first to describe microorganisms in detail

• He did not invent the microscope, the compound

microscope was developed in the late 16



– Robert Hooke 1664 described fruiting bodies of fungi

• The father of animal histology and microbiology

– Discovered existence of spermatozoa and red blood cells

– Published paper in 1684 describing “wee Animalcules”

• Advances in microbiology were made in the late 19 th century due to:

– Advancement in microscopy

– Advancement in techniques for the visualisation and differentiation of microorganisms (gram stain in 1884)

Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope

Van Leeuwenhoek’s microscope

Spontaneous Generation

• Life arising from something non-living

• Most powerful opponent of this theory, French Chemist Louis Pasteur

• Pasteur’s Experiments

– Showed structures in air resembled microbes seen in spoiled food

– Used heat to sterilize spoiled material and showed that air introduced contaminants that caused putrefaction, thus refuting the claims of spontaneous generation

• The principles of sterilization and aseptic techniques were born. Such techniques are crucial to microbiology and in human industry

Pasteur’s Experiment

Pasteur’s Experiment

Major drawback of Pasteur’s Experiments

• Endospores

– Heat resistance – Work of Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch discovered endospores in Bacillus

• If heat was not applied then viruses would have been a potential issue

• Heat sterilisation in brief

Germ Theory of Disease

• Robert Koch and the study of Anthrax and its etiology

• He found that large amounts of bacteria were found in the blood of sick animals

– Animal experiments

• Blood transfer

• Inoculation with pure bacterial culture

• The experiments gave rise to Koch’s Postulate which demonstrated the role of microorganisms in disease and spurred the development of microbiology, stressing the importance of laboratory culture

• The essential general conclusion to be drawn from this work is that specific microorganisms have specific effects

Koch’s Postulate

• (1) The organisms should be constantly present in the animal suffering from the disease and should be absent in health animals

• (2) The organisms must be cultivated in pure culture

• (3) The pure culture should produce characteristics of the disease when injected into a susceptible animal

• (4) The organisms should be re-isolated from the infected animal and cultured in the laboratory. The laboratory culture should be the same as the original organism

Pure Cultures

• Koch’s contribution

– The use of solid media such as potatoes

• The bacterial colony

• Streaking technique

– The birth of the solid culture medium

• gelatin

– The use of agar media today and the development of microbial culture techniques

Bacterial Colonies on Agar Plate

Bacterial Colonies on Agar Plate
Bacterial Colonies on Agar Plate
Bacterial Colonies on Agar Plate

Culture Media

Culture Media
Culture Media

Developments in the 20 th Century

The Development of Applied Microbiology

• Medical Microbiology and Immunology

– Based on the work of Koch and others, many new pathogens discovered

– The body’s defense to pathogens understood

• Agricultural Microbiology and the understanding of soil biology

– Soil microorganisms and the formation of antibiotics

– The birth of antibiotics and chemotherapy (Alexander Fleming and the discovery of penicillin in 1929)

• Industrial Microbiology

– Fermentation

– Large-scale production of chemicals

• Aquatic Microbiology

– Microbial processes in water bodies such as lakes, streams and the ocean

The Development of Applied Microbiology

• Sanitary Microbiology

– Sewage treatment plants and anaerobic digestion

• Drinking Water Microbiology

– Study and elimination of microbes from drinking water

• However, all of these sub-disciplines can be categorised as microbial ecology

• Developments in applied microbiology have led to advancements in human society

The Development of Basic Microbiology

• Advancements in basic microbiology have provided support for advancements in applied microbiology

• Taxonomy- The science of classification

• Bacterial Physiology – The nutrients bacteria consume and products they make

• Cytology

• Bacterial Biochemistry

• Bacterial Genetics

• Molecular Biology

– DNA, RNA and protein synthesis

– Molecular sequencing

– Revolution of bacterial classification

– Human genome project

• Virology

• Biotechnology

– Genetic engineering

– Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)


• The influence of microorganisms on human society is clear • Pasteur stated “The role of the infinitely small is infinitely large”

• The early work of many scientists contributed to the development of the field of microbiology and consequently the quality of life we have today