Microbiology is often incorrectly classed as the study of germs or of bacteria. While some microbiologists may specifically study viruses, also called virology, or bacteria, also called bacteriology, microbiology encompasses the whole of studying microscopic organisms. This includes the study of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, some types of algae, and often viruses.
The origins of this field can be traced to scientists positing that small unseeable things might affect other organisms. Anton van Leeuwenhoek was able to observe tiny bacteria in a primitive microscope in the 17th century. Many cite microbiology of medical origin as having been founded by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch in the mid to late 19th century.
Later discoveries in the 20th century, like the discovery of viruses, proved of immense importance to medicine. Most medical professionals today credit this field with some of the most important work related to human illness that has ever been conducted.
Medical microbiology is only one facet of the field. Other subsections of study include applications of the science to physiology, genetics, environmental studies, evolutionary biology, and pharmaceutical studies.
In each case, microbes are studied and knowledge about them contributes to these other disciplines. For example, understanding the basic make-up of microbes and how they develop and die is part of physiological microbiology. As well, evaluation of how microbes interact with each other in a complex environment enhances our understanding of our environment.
Microbiology in simple applications can also help people understand some of the basic functions of baking ingredients. For example, studies into the behavior of yeast allows people to understand how to effectively use yeast to bake bread. It also helps to explain why a loaf may fall flat.
Scientists in microbiology see the world as composed of almost uncountable numbers of tiny unseen parts that influence us in many ways. The field is constantly uncovering more that may be of benefit to all humans interacting with their environment.
Microbiology is only getting started as a science. Scientists estimate that about 99% of the microbes existing on earth have not yet been studied. This suggests that greater application of this science may further help us understand some of the mysteries of life that still daunt us.