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1. Introduction

2. Names

3. Microorganisms

4. Lab Procedures

5. Resources


This paper was presented for translators at the 40th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association, 1999.

Copyright: American Translators Association. All rights reserved. This document may not be reproduced without the written permission of the American Translators Association. Presented here by permission and slightly modified for this web page.


Denzel L. Dyer
Dyer Scientific and Technical Translations

Abstract: This is a broad, general introduction to the kinds of subject matter treated in microbiology, and to the basic terminology used by US microbiologists.


Microbiology is a relatively new science. Although the application of microbiology to the necessities of life (bread, cheese, beer) is older than history, the science began about 1674 when Antony van Leeuwenhoek made very small but quite powerful magnifying lenses and reported seeing tiny “animalcules”. Not much more than arguments about spontaneous generation came from that work until about 1850. Then Louis Pasteur, professor of chemistry at Strasbourg, having already been honored for his discovery of optical isomers, was asked to study some problems in brewing and winemaking. Over the next 35 years he studied fermentation; disproved (at least for the time) the theory of spontaneous generation; discovered preservation by pasteurization; produced the basis for Lister´s development of antiseptic surgery; rescued the French silk industry from two bacterial diseases, and developed immunization against anthrax and rabies. Advances have continued in medicine, industry, genetics, and basic microbiology.

Microbiology generally covers:

bacteriology The study of bacteria, which differ from other cells because they do not have nuclei separated from the rest of the cell by nuclear membranes. For that reason, they are called prokaryotes (while all the other organisms are eukaryotes). It has been speculated that some primitive cells ingested bacteria which became the mitochondria found in the eukaryotes. The relatively newly discovered Archaebacteria seem to be still more primitive than other prokaryotes.
mycology The study of yeasts and molds, which are plant-like microorganism without the capability for photosynthesis.
phycology The study of algae, microscopic plants capable of photosynthesis. Some algae (e. g., seaweeds) are large, but many others grow as microscopic single cells. Many of the blue-green algae (Cyanophyta) resemble bacteria, and some microbiologists consider that they are bacteria. As there are photosynthetic bacteria (which do not produce oxygen), the line between algae and bacteria is diffuse. Perhaps some primitive cells ingested blue-green algae which became the chloroplasts of green plants.
virology Historically microbiology, but practically a separate science: study of viruses, which are arguably “living” submicroscopic packages of nucleic acid which can take control of other cells to produce more viruses. Some viruses attack bacteria specifically. Those are bacteriophage, often called just phage.

Microbiology generally relies strongly on chemical laboratory procedures and equipment, biochemical tests, and microscopy.

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Copyright © 2010 Denzel Dyer, all rights reserved.