Microbiologists study the biochemical, physiological and genetic aspects of micro-organisms, and how micro-organisms interact. In general, this involves:
- assisting supervisors and protect staff in developing hazard assessments of planned work with micro-organisms to help protect from exposure and the environment from accidental release
- working in or creating aseptic conditions
- studying human diseases caused by micro-organisms
- conducting experiments to isolate and grow cultures of specific micro-organisms under controlled conditions
- isolating, analyzing and genetically manipulating nucleic acids, proteins and other substances produced by micro-organisms
- performing tests on water, food and the environment to detect harmful micro-organisms and control sources of pollution and contamination
- performing tests on clinical samples to detect and characterize pathogens
- observing, identifying and classifying micro-organisms
- isolating and genetically modifying micro-organisms involved in breaking down pollutants
- developing genetically modified microbes for use in the production of genetically engineered biological products (proteins) or for gene transfer.
Microbiologists use a variety of specialized equipment such as incubator-shakers, fermenters, autoclaves, light and electronic microscopes, epifluorescence and confocal microscopes, centrifuges, gas chromatographs, high-pressure liquid chromatographs, mass spectrometry, electrophoresis units, thermocyclers, fluorescence-activated cell sorters and phosphorimagers.
Microbiologists may specialize in fields such as:
- bacteriology in general or a particular aspect of bacteriology (for example, public health bacteriology, pharmaceutical bacteriology, hospital or clinical bacteriology)
- environmental microbiology
- food microbiology
- biotechnology (for more information, see the Biotechnologist occupational profile)
- immunology (studying immune reactions in humans or animals)
- microbial ecology (for related information, see the Ecologist occupational profile)
- molecular microbiology (investigating how bacteria or viruses function at the molecular level)
- eukaryotic microbiology (studying fungi, parasites or protozoa)
Medical microbiologists help scientists and physicians in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infections in animals and humans by investigating:
- how organisms cause disease and their role in disease processes
- factors contributing to the occurrence of disease in a population
- how epidemics can be controlled.
Microbiologists employed in the food, dairy or brewing industries may be involved in quality control and the application of good laboratory and manufacturing practices.
Work in microbiology is often interdisciplinary, so microbiologists may work closely with chemists, biochemists, geneticists, pathologists, physicians, environmental scientists, engineers, veterinarians or geologists.