An introduction to the world of microbes

Published on December 31, 2019   40 min

A selection of talks on Infectious Diseases

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Hello. My name is Dave Westenberg. I'm an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Missouri University of Science and Technology. I'm here to give you an introduction to the world of microbes.
So, here's a little road map of where I'm going to take you today. First of all, we will go through a little bit about what is a microbe and tell you a little about the history of microbiology as a scientific discipline, but also maybe a little bit of pre-history. We'll talk about how we see microbes, because that's certainly a big part of how microbes were discovered and how we work with them. I'll, then, take you a little bit through how we described microbes, the different ways that we can define them and tell us what they are. Then, I'll talk a little bit about their importance, how they impact our health, and how they impact our earth through our environment. Then, I'll talk a little bit about how we use microorganisms today, now that we've had the power to capture what they can do.
So, what is a microbe? To kick things off here, I'll tell you a little bit about what I'm talking about here. Microbes are organisms for which you need a microscope to see. So, that may make sense now when you think about that name and the word microscope. The kinds of organisms that we're talking about here are bacteria, archaea, fungi, protists, and viruses. So, we're going to take you a little bit through the world of these microscopic organisms.
When we talk about the discipline of microbiology, we can break that down into several sub-disciplines based on the kinds of organisms that you're studying. A bacteriologist, which is my background, study bacteria and the archaea- what we call the prokaryotic organisms. Although, that term 'prokaryote' is kind of starting to take on a bit of a concern with people because it has a negative perception. But, I still stick with the term prokaryote when I talk about bacteria and archaea. But, we also have virologists. They study viruses. We have cell biologists that consider themselves microbiologists who study cell structure and function. In a lot of cases, cell biologists tend to study microscopic organisms we call the yeast. Mycology is the study of fungi, so yeast would fall into that category as well. But, mostly, when we think about mycology, we think about those fuzzy things growing on your bathroom curtains, the nice little microbes that grow on your bread and things like that. We also have parasitology, those parasites that cause very serious diseases, things like protists and worms that live in us- things like malaria might be a very well known parasitic disease. Then, of course, immunology is a very big part of microbiology. You'll find a lot of microbiology departments around the world are called microbiology and immunology because how we respond to microbes is through our immune system, and so, immunology is a big part of studying microbiology, particularly where it talks about human health. Of course, what we're learning nowadays, as we understand the microbes around us is that many of us think of that as a negative interaction. But, we're actually finding a homeport in that microbes are in helping develop the immune system and how our bodies develop. So, it's really an exciting time to be in microbiology and see how all of these realms of microbiology are developing over the years.