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What Microbiologists Do

Microbiologists study the growth, development, and other characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, algae, and fungi.


Microbiologists typically do the following:

Most microbiologists work in research and development. Many conduct basic research with the aim of increasing scientific knowledge. Others conduct applied research, using knowledge from basic research to develop new products or solve particular problems. For example, microbiologists help to develop genetically engineered crops, biofuels, and ways to protect the environment.

Microbiologists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instruments to do their experiments and analyze the results. For example, microbiologists use powerful electron microscopes to study bacteria. They use advanced computer software to analyze the growth of microorganisms found in samples.  

Most microbiologists work as part of a team. An increasing number of scientific research projects involve multiple disciplines, and it is common for microbiologists to work on teams with technicians and scientists in other fields.

For example, microbiologists researching new drugs may work with medical scientists and biochemists to develop new medicines such as antibiotics and vaccines. As another example, microbiologists in medical diagnostic laboratories work alongside physicians, nurses, medical laboratory technologists and technicians and other health professionals to help prevent, treat, and cure diseases.

The following are examples of types of microbiologists:

Bacteriologists study the growth, development, and other properties of bacteria, including the positive and negative effects bacteria have on plants, animals, and humans.  

Clinical microbiologists study microorganisms that can cause, cure, or be used to treat diseases in humans.

Immunologists study how organisms’ immune systems react to and defend against microorganisms.

Mycologists study the properties of fungi such as yeast and mold, as well as the ways fungi can be used (for example, in food and medicine) to benefit society.

Virologists study the structure, development, and other properties of viruses and any effects they would have on organisms they infect.

Many people with a microbiology background become high school teachers or professors. For more information, see the profiles on high school and postsecondary teachers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition