Microbiology is the study of very small, usually single-celled organisms known as microbes. Even though you can’t see them without a microscope, microbes are everywhere you go. Examples include bacteria, fungi, microscopic plants and animals such as plankton.
The first microbes appeared on earth about 3.5 billion years ago. They are very important in sustaining life on our planet, and can be found in even the most hostile of environments such as hot deserts and the deep sea. Amazingly, microbes represent around 60 percent of the biomass of all life on Earth!
Microbes can have many different and interesting functions. Some are used in food and drink production e.g. making cheese and brewing beer; others produce useful medicines known as antibiotics; whilst some live inside our digestive system and help us to break down our food. In fact, there are more microbes on and inside your body than there are cells that make up your entire body!
Not all microbes are quite so good for us. Some can make us ill, such as giving us a throat infection, a stomach upset or a fungal skin infection. Other more serious ones can even kill. The famous ‘black death’ that swept through Europe in the 14th century killed an estimated 75 million people and was caused by a type of bacteria.
Scientists estimate that about 99% of the microbes existing on earth have not yet been studied. This means there is still much more to discover in the field microbiology. Who knows, future studies could lead to new treatments for disease, new ways to produce fuel and much, much more.