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Microbiology is the study of microorganisms ,including unicellular (single-celled) eukaryotes and prokaryotes , fungi , and viruses . Today, most of the work in microbiology is done using methods from biochemistry and genetics . It is alsorelated to pathology , immunology , and epidemiology as many microorganisms are pathogens .

Microbiologists have made many fundamental contributions to biology , especially inthe fields of biochemistry, genetics, and cell biology . Microbes have manytraits that make them ideal model organisms :

  • They are small, therefore they do not consume many resources
  • Some have very short generation times (~30 minutes for E. coli )
  • Cells can easily survive in isolation from other cells
  • They can reproduce by mitotic division, allowing for the propagation ofgenetically identical ( clonal ) populations.
  • They may be frozen for long periods of time. Even if 90% of the cells are killed by the freezing process, there are millionsof cells in a milliliter of liquid culture.

These traits allowed Joshua and Esther Lederberg to devise an elegant experiment in 1951 demonstrating that adaptive mutations arise from preadaptation rather than directed mutation. For this purpose, they invented replica plating , which allowed them to transfer numerous bacterial colonies from their specific locations on one agar-filledpetri dish to analogous locations on several other petri dishes. After replicating a plate of E. coli, they exposed eachof the new plates to phage . They observed that phage-resistant colonies were present atanalogous locations on each of the plates, allowing them to conclude that the phage resistance trait had existed in the originalcolony, which had never been exposed to phage, instead of arising after the bacteria had been exposed to the virus.

The extensive characterization of microbes has allowed them to be used as tools in other branches of biology:

  • Bacteria (especially E. coli) may be used to replicate DNA in the form of a plasmid . This DNA is often chemically modified in vitro then inserted intobacteria to select for the desired traits and isolate the desired product from by-products of the reaction. After growing thebacteria and thereby replicating the DNA, the DNA may be further modified and inserted into other organisms.
  • Bacteria may be used to produce large amounts of protein using genes encoded on a plasmid.
  • Bacterial genes have been inserted into other organisms as reportergenes .
  • The yeasttwo-hybrid system combines bacterial genes with genes from the organism being studied and inserts them into yeast cells tostudy protein-protein interactions within a cellular environment.
See also Immunology -- Virology -- Archaea -- Genetics -- Biochemistry -- Geomicrobiology -- Important publications in microbiology
Return to Biology , Category:Biology

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