Microbiology is the study of the biology of microscopic organisms - viruses, bacteria, algae, fungi, slime molds, and protozoa. The methods used to study and manipulate these minute and mostly unicellular organisms differ from those used in most other biological investigations. Recombinant DNA technology uses microorganisms, particularly bacteria and viruses, to amplify DNA sequences and generate the encoded products. Moving genes from one microorganism to another, or amplifying them within microorganisms, permits application of microbial skills to solve medical and environmental problems. Many microorganisms are unique among living things in their ability to use gaseous nitrogen from the air for their nutritional requirements, or to degrade complex macromolecules in such materials as wood. By rearranging the genes that control these and other processes, scientists seek to engineer microorganisms that will process wastes, fertilize agricultural land, produce desirable biomolecules, and solve other problems inexpensively and safely.
Microbiologists pursue careers in many fields, including agricultural, environmental, food, and industrial microbiology; public health; resource management; basic research; education; and pharmaceuticals. Jobs in all of these fields are available at the BS level as well as the MS and PhD levels (see our guide for applying to graduate schools). The Microbiology major also incorporates the requirements expected for admission to medical, dental, and other health-professional schools, and to graduate schools in microbiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and related disciplines.