Microbiologists study the basic anatomy, genetics and physiology of micro-organisms, such as bacteria, fungi and viruses, as well as the vital interaction between micro-organisms and the environment.
They apply this knowledge to manipulate micro-organisms both ecologically and industrially, to improve the quality of life and to diagnose and control micro-organisms which contaminate human beings, animals and plants.
Micro-organisms are found everywhere, from places such as Antarctica, to the volcanic pipes on the bottom of the ocean with temperatures of 268 degrees centigrade, the salt pans in Namibia, the bloodstream of animals, and swamps where the only source of food is carbon dioxide. Even though they are very small and usually invisible to the naked eye, micro-organisms play vital roles in biological activities in our environment as they interact with human beings and animals, either detrimentally or beneficially.
In the medical world, microbiologists are involved in the quick and accurate location and identification of pathogenic micro-organisms. They develop effective vaccines and methods of preventing epidemics of dangerous diseases.
Microbiologists are involved in various activities such as:
- finding solutions for fresh water pollution
- the identification of pathogenic micro-organisms
- prevention of food decay
- microbiological processes in the industry where micro-organisms are used in the manufacture of chemicals
- the control of unwanted microbe activities which can cause losses, for example the degradation of aviation fuel, the corrosion of iron tubing and the breaking down of textile products
- micro-organisms are also used in the production of antibiotics
Areas of specialisation include:
- Environmental Microbiology
- Medical Microbiology
- Laboratory Direction (Supervision)
- Product and Process Control
Microbiologists work in laboratories in a wide range of employment areas. Laboratories are equipped with microscopes, dyes, stains, beakers, test tubes and other laboratory and testing equipment. Special care must be taken to keep the work areas sterile, and safety precautions must be taken when working with disease-causing organisms. Some microbiologists work in specially designed areas. Others work in areas which house laboratory equipment and animals. The actual setting depends on the size, type, location and financial resources of the employer.
- imaginative and curious
- alert and good judgement
- precise and methodical
- work well with details
- patience and perseverance
- able to work independently and as part of a team
- clinics and other health care facilities
- medical schools
- medical research councils
- agricultural research organisations
- food, fermentation and pharmaceutical industries
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Health
- Department of Water Affairs and Forestry
- Department of Trade and Industry
- universities and universities of technology
- practising pathologists
- try to get vacation work as a laboratory aid, or hospital orderly, attendant or a volunteer
- arrange to speak to a microbiologist about this type of career