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Microbiology is the study of microbes.

Individual microbes can be observed only with the

use of various types of microscopes.
The two major categories of microbes are acellular microbes (also called infectious
particles) and cellular microbes (also called microorganisms).
Acellular microbes include viruses and prions.
Cellular microbes include all bacteria, all archaea, some algae, all protozoa, and some
Because viruses are acellular (not composed of cells), they are often referred to as
acellular microbes or infectious particles rather than microorganisms.
Microbes are ubiquitous, meaning that they are found virtually everywhere.
Microbes that live on and in various parts of the human body are called our indigenous
microflora (or indigenous microbiota).
Only a small percentage of known microbes cause disease. Those that do are called
Pathogens cause two types of diseases: infectious diseases and microbial intoxications.
Microbes that do not cause disease are called nonpathogens. Opportunistic pathogens do
not cause disease under ordinary conditions, but have the potential to cause disease
should the opportunity present itself (e.g., if they gain access to the wrong place at the
wrong time).
Many microbes are involved in the decomposition of dead organisms and the waste
products of living organisms. Collectively, they are referred to as decomposers or
saprophytes. A saprophyte is an organism that lives on dead and/or decaying organic
The use of microbes to clean up toxic wastes and other industrial waste products is known
as bioremediation.
Many microbes play essential roles in various elemental cycles, such as the carbon,
nitrogen, oxygen, sulfur, and phosphorous cycles. Photosynthetic algae and bacteria (such
as cyanobacteria) produce much of the oxygen in our atmosphere.
Many microbes are used in various industries, such as food, beverage, chemical, and
antibiotic industries. The use of living organisms or their derivatives to make or modify
useful products or processes is called biotechnology.
Three of the early microbiologists who made significant contributions to our present
understanding of microbes were Anton van Leeuwenhoek, Louis Pasteur, and Robert Koch.
Robert Koch and his colleagues established an experimental procedure to prove that a
specific microbe is the cause of a specific infectious disease. This scientific procedure
became known as Kochs Postulates.

Microbes are said to be microscopic because some type of microscope is required to see
Metric units are used to express the sizes of microbes. A meter (m) can be divided into 10
decimeters, 100 centimeters, 1,000 millimeters, 1 million micrometers, or 1 billion
The sizes of bacteria and protozoa are expressed in micrometers ( m), whereas the sizes
of viruses are expressed in nanometers (nm).
A typical spherical bacterium (a coccus) is approximately 1 m in diameter. A typical rodshaped bacterium (a bacillus) is about 1 m wide by 3 m long.
Most of the viruses that cause human disease range in size from about 10 nm to 300 nm.

The development of simple and compound light microscopes enabled the discovery and
visualization of microorganisms.
An ocular micrometer is used to measure the dimensions of objects being viewed with a
compound light microscope.
A simple microscope contains only one magnifying lens, whereas a compound microscope
contains more than one magnifying lens.
Total magnification of the compound light microscope is calculated by multiplying the
magnifying power of the ocular lens by the magnifying power of the objective being used.
The limiting factor of compound light microscopes is the type of illumination being used.
Because visible light is used as the source of illumination, objects that are smaller than half
the wavelength of visible light cannot be seen.
The resolving power or resolution of an optical instrument is its ability to distinguish
between two adjacent objects.
The resolving power of the compound light microscope is approximately 0.2 m, which is
about one-half the wavelength of visible light.
When using a brightfield microscope, a person can see objects against a bright
background. When using a darkfield microscope, a person sees illuminated objects against
a dark background.
Electron microscopes enable scientists to observe objects that are too small to be seen with
a compound light microscope. For example, because they are so tiny, most viruses can
only be seen using electron microscopes.
Extremely small objects can be seen using electron microscopes, because electrons are
used as the source of illumination. The wavelength of electrons is shorter than that of
visible light.
Transmission electron microscopes enable scientists to see inside of cells (i.e., to see
internal details).
The resolving power of a transmission electron microscope is approximately 0.2 nm, which
is about a million times better than the resolving power of the unaided human eye and one
thousand times better than the resolving power of the compound light microscope.
Using scanning electron microscopes, scientists are able to study surface details. The
resolving power of the scanning electron microscope is approximately 20 nm.
Photographs taken through the lens system of the compound light microscope are called
photomicrographs, whereas those taken with electron microscopes are called transmission
electron micrographs and scanning electron micrographs.