Microbiologists work in almost every industry—from food, agriculture and pollution control to biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and health. They also work in government agencies and labs, such as the National Institutes of Health, the Environmental Protection Agency, water treatment facilities, and hospitals. And they work in education as teachers and researchers.
Because there are so many different species of microbes out there and they do such very different things, no one microbiologist can study everything! That's why people who become microbiologists usually focus on a particular microbe or research area. Here are a few examples:
Some microbiologists focus on bacteria and how they help or hurt us. These scientists are called bacteriologists (back-tear-ee-ahl-oh-gists).
Some specialize in viruses and how they infect cells. These scientists are called virologists (vir-ahl-oh-gists).
Some microbiologists track down outbreaks of disease to learn what caused them and if we're facing a deadly new microbe. They are called epidemiologists (ep-ih-deem-ee-ahl-oh-gists).
Some study how the body defends itself against microbial invaders. They are called immunologists (ih-mew-nawl-oh-gists).
This is only a partial listing of the many different things microbiologists do. If you really want to get a good sense of what microbiologists do, you should talk to some of them. You might start with your science teacher or scientists in your area (your teacher or parents may be able to help you find some and set up interviews). Or you could read the interviews with microbiologists we've posted on this site.
You may not encounter any microbiologists in your everyday activities or even know of anyone who works as a microbiologist. But the efforts of thousands of these scientists to better understand our planet’s microscopic inhabitants affect you in many ways every day.
Microbiologists’ research helps keep your food from making you sick and your drinking water clean and safe.
They track down the culprits behind mysterious new illnesses and harness microbes’ abilities to make medicines, industrial enzymes, food ingredients, and many other useful products.
Microbiologists work behind the scenes in hospital labs to pinpoint the germ making you sick so your doctor can prescribe the right treatment, and they figure out the basic workings of infectious microbial cells so that drug makers can devise potent new medicines.
They solve environmental problems by using microbes in bioremediation, and they explore oceans, caves, deserts, and even Antarctica's ice to learn how microbes affect the workings of our planet.
You might expect to find microbiologists working at research universities or in the sprawling complexes of pharmaceutical companies. But microbiologists also work in the food industry, water treatment, agriculture, pollution control, biotechnology, energy development, museum preservation, and many other disciplines.
Microbiologists also find jobs in government agencies and labs, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Because there are so many different species of microbes out there and they do such very different things, no one microbiologist can study every kind of microorganism. Microbiologists and other scientists who study microbes usually focus on a particular microbe or research area.
Here are a few examples: