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Basics of Microbiology

Updated on July 28, 2010
Swine flu virus
Swine flu virus
Antony Won Leewonhoek
Antony Won Leewonhoek
Giant protozoa
Giant protozoa

What is Microbiology?

Microbiology is the study of living organisms of microscopic size. There are 5 groups of micro organisms: bacteria, protozoa, viruses, algae, and fungi. Microorganisms are very tiny organisms but the relatively new science of microbiology is quite huge. Prokaryotic bacteria, eukaryotic fungi, and nonliving viruses are just some of the microbes that effect our health and environment. Some are beneficial, others pathogens or opportunistic.

Microbiology typically includes the study of the immune system, or Immunology. Generally, immune systems interact with pathogenic microbes; these two disciplines often intersect with each other.That is why many colleges offer a paired degree such as "Microbiology and Immunology".

Microbiology is a broad term which includes virology, mycology, parasitology, bacteriology and other branches. A microbiologist is a specialist in microbiology.

Microbiology is researched actively, and the field is advancing continually. It is estimated only about one percent of all of the microbe species on Earth have been studied.Although microbes were directly observed over three hundred years ago, the field of microbiology can be said to be in its infancy relative to older biological disciplines such as zoology and botany.

The task of microbiologists involves investigation of the fascinating world of micro organisms or microbes i.e. those organisms which cannot be seen with the naked eye and can be seen with the help of microscope. Many a times, a microbiologist is regarded as a scientist who studies the essential components of living organisms. They also study the interaction of microorganisms with people. Everyday microbiologists around the world explore, investigate and discover how these organisms, exist and affect our lives. The study of microbiology is comprehensive in nature. Microbiologists can specialize in a variety of areas.

Founders of Microbiology

Antony von Leeuwenhoek – Pioneer of Microbiology

Leeuwenhoek was the first person to introduce the scientific world to the microbial world and is thus regarded as one of the Father's of Microbiology.

Leeuwenhoek was a cloth merchant in Delft, Holland. He is an odd member in the list of luminaries of science since he had no formal scientific education and he knew no other language other than his native Dutch. But what he lacked in education, he made up with curiosity and astute observation skills. Also his mind was not barricaded by the scientific dogmas of his time.

Antony von Leeuwenhoek

Robert Koch – A Giant of Microbiology

Robert Koch, one of the founders of microbiology was a German physician well known for isolating the anthrax and tubercle bacilli and pathogen of cholera.

Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch was born on 11 December 1843 at Clausthal in the Upper Harz Mountains in Germany. The thirteenth child of a mining official, a five-year old Koch surprised his parents when he told them that he had taught himself to read with the aid of newspapers. He took his primary education at a local high school and then attended the University of Gottingen in 1862, where he first studied mathematics, then natural science and eventually, medicine.

Robert Koch

Scope of Microbiology

Microbiology is a vast field and has lot of scope. Jobs exist in R&D as well as for managerial tasks.It is an emerging field in today's world.There are many organisations which help in promotion and advancement of this branch of science. There are many Microbiologists today who help in the promotion of this field of science by there research work.

What are microbes?

The world around us is full of organisms that are too small to be seen with the naked eye – bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae and protozoa. These microbes live in a wide range of habitats from hot springs to the human body and the depths of the ocean. They affect each and every aspect of life on earth.

We can all think of a few microbes that make us ill – the viruses that cause colds and flu or food poisoning bacteria. However there are many more microbes living harmlessly alongside us playing a vital role in the planet’s nutrient cycles, from fixing nitrogen and carbon dioxide at the beginning of the food chain right through to decomposing and recycling essential nutrients at the end of it. Microbes are also essential to production of many foods and medicines – imagine our diets without cheese, bread, yoghurt or a world where the slightest bacterial infection or wound could prove fatal because there were no antibiotics or vaccines.

Microbes have always affected our health, food and environment and they will play an important role in the big issues that face us in the future: climate change, renewable energy resources; healthier lifestyles and controlling diseases.

What do microbiologists do?
Because microbes have such an effect on our lives, they are a major source of interest and employment to thousands of people. Microbiologists study microbes: where they occur, their survival strategies, how they can affect us and how we can exploit them.

All around our planet there are microbiologists making a difference to our lives - may be ensuring the safety of our food or treating and preventing disease or developing green technologies or tracking the role of microbes in climate change.

Basic research

Before microbiologists can solve the problems caused by microbes, or exploit their amazing powers, they have to find out about the detailed workings of microbial cells. This basic knowledge of cell genetics, structure and function can then be used in applied microbiology as well as in other areas of biology.

Microbiologists are essential in the fight against infectious diseases. Many work as biomedical scientists in hospitals and Health Protection Agency labs, investigating samples of body tissue and fluids to diagnose infections, monitor treatments or track disease outbreaks. Some microbiologists work as clinical scientists in hospital and medical school laboratories where they carry out research and give scientific advice to medical staff who treat patients. Other microbiologists work on pathogens that cause diseases, such ‘flu or TB, and the information they find is used by their colleagues to develop vaccines and better treatments.

Some microbiologists study how microbes live alongside other creatures in different habitats such as the ocean, salt lakes and Antarctica. They develop early warning sensors to detect pollution and use microbes to treat industrial waste. Others contribute to the worldwide research on climate change by investigating the effect of microbial processes on atmospheric composition and climate. Microbiologists also work with technologists and engineers to develop greener sources of energy produced from urban and industrial waste

Without agriculture there would be no food for us to eat. Microbiologists investigate the vital role of microbes in soil. Some concentrate on plant pests and diseases, developing ways to control them. Others research the pathogens that cause diseases in farm animals. Microbiologists also use microbes to control insect pests and weeds, especially in developing countries.

Microbiologists work in many UK bioscience and food companies. They carry out research and develop new products or work in quality control to monitor manufacturing processes and check the microbiological safety of goods such as medicines, cosmetics, toiletries, biochemicals and food and drink.

Where do microbiologists work?
Universities, research institutes and industrial companies employ microbiologists to do basic, environmental, healthcare and agricultural research. Medical microbiologists also work in hospitals and Health Protection Agency laboratories.

Industrial microbiologists work in a range of companies – from big pharmaceutical, biochemical, biotechnology and food businesses through to smaller firms that develop biopharmaceuticals or specialist products.

Description of the five groups of Microorganisms


A virus is a very small infectious agent that replicate only inside the living cells of organisms. Most viruses cannot be seen directly under the light microscope. Viruses infect all types of organisms, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea. Martinus Beijerinck discovered the tobacco mosaic virus in 1898.After that about 5,000 viruses have been described in detail.Viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on Earth and are the most abundant type of biological entity.The study of viruses is known as virology, a sub-speciality of microbiology.

Virus particles (known as virions) consist of two or three parts: genes made from either DNA or RNA, long molecules that carry genetic information; a proteincoat that protects these genes; and in some cases an envelope of lipids that surrounds the protein coat when they are outside a cell. The shapes of viruses range from simple helicaland icosahedral forms to more complex structures. The average virus is about one one-hundredth the size of the average bacterium.

Swine flu virus, H1N1 virus

According to Baltimore classification

This classification places viruses into seven groups:

I: dsDNA viruses(e.g.Adenoviruses,Herpesviruses,Poxviruses)

II: ssDNA viruses(+)sense DNA (e.g.Parvoviruses)

III: dsRNA viruses(e.g.Reoviruses)

IV: (+)ssRNA viruses(+)sense RNA (e.g.Picornaviruses,Togaviruses)

V: (−)ssRNA viruses(−)sense RNA (e.g.Orthomyxoviruses,Rhabdoviruses)

VI : ssRNA-RT viruses(+)sense RNA with DNA intermediate in life-cycle (e.g.Retroviruses)

VII: dsDNA-RT viruses(e.g.Hepadnaviruses)


Single-celled microorganisms which can exist either as independent (free-living) organisms or as parasites (dependent upon another organism for life).

Examples of bacteria include:

• Acidophilus, a normal inhabitant of yogurt,

• Chlamydia, which causes an infection very similar to gonorrhea,

• Clostridium welchii the most common cause of the dreaded gas gangrene,

• E. coli, the common peaceful citizen of our colon and, upon occasion, a dangerous agent of disease, and

• Streptococcus, the bacterium that causes the important infection of the throat strep throat.

The term bacteria was devised in the 19th century by the German botanist Ferdinand Cohn (1828-98) who based it on the Greek bakterion meaning a small rod or staff. In 1853, Cohn categorised bacteria as one of three types of microorganisms -- bacteria (short rods), bacilli (longer rods), and spirilla (spiral forms). The term bacteria was preceded in the 17th century by the microscopic animalcules described by Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723).

Anthrax Bacteria


The word protozoan is originally an adjective and is used as a noun. While there is no exact definition for the term protozoan, most scientists use the word to refer to a unicellular heterotrophic protist, such as the amoeba and ciliate. The term algae is used for microorganisms that photosynthesize. However, the distinction between protozoa and algae is often vague. For example, the algae Dinobryon has chloroplasts for photosynthesis, but it can also feed on organic matter and is motile. Protozoans are generally referred to as animal-like protists.

Protozoa are paraphyletic. They constitute their own kingdom under the Integrated Taxonomic Information System 2009 classification.

Giant Protozoa 


Though the prokaryotic Cyanobacteria (commonly referred to as blue-green algae) were traditionally included as "algae" in older textbooks, many modern sources regard this as outdated as they are now considered to be closely related to bacteria.The term algae is now restricted to eukaryotic organisms. All true algae therefore have a nucleus enclosed within a membrane and plastids bound in one or more membranes. Algae constitute a paraphyletic and polyphyletic group, as they do not include all the descendants of the last universal ancestor nor do they all descend from a common algal ancestor, although their plastids seem to have a single origin. Diatoms are also examples of algae.Algae are a large and diverse group of simple, typically autotrophic organisms, ranging from unicellular to multicellular forms. The largest and most complex marine forms are called seaweeds. They are photosynthetic, like plants, and "simple" because they lack the many distinct organs found in land plants.

Algae lack the various structures that characterize land plants, such as phyllids (leaves) and rhizoids in nonvascular plants, or leaves, roots, and other organs that are found in tracheophytes (vascular plants). Many are photoautotrophic, although some groups contain members that are mixotrophic, deriving energy both from photosynthesis and uptake of organic carbon either by osmotrophy, myzotrophy, or phagotrophy. Some unicellular species rely entirely on external energy sources and have limited or no photosynthetic apparatus.

Nearly all algae have photosynthetic machinery ultimately derived from the Cyanobacteria, and so produce oxygen as a by-product of photosynthesis, unlike other photosynthetic bacteria such as purple and green sulfur bacteria. Fossilized filamentous algae from the Vindhya basin have been dated back to 1.6 to 1.7 billion years ago.

The first alga to have its genome sequenced was Cyanidioschyzon merolae.



The organisms of the fungal lineage include mushrooms, rusts, smuts, puffballs, truffles, morels, molds, and yeasts, as well as many less well-known organisms (Alexopoulos et al., 1996). More than 70,000 species of fungi have been described; however, some estimates of total numbers suggest that 1.5 million species may exist (Hawksworth, 1991; Hawksworth et al., 1995).Fungi

As the sister group of animals and part of the eukaryotic crown group that radiated about a billion years ago, the fungi constitute an independent group equal in rank to that of plants and animals. They share with animals the ability to export hydrolytic enzymes that break down biopolymers, which can be absorbed for nutrition. Rather than requiring a stomach to accomplish digestion, fungi live in their own food supply and simply grow into new food as the local environment becomes nutrient depleted.

Most biologists have seen dense filamentous fungal colonies growing on rich nutrient agar plates, but in nature the filaments can be much longer and the colonies less dense. When one of the filaments contacts a food supply, the entire colony mobilizes and reallocates resources to exploit the new food. Should all food become depleted, sporulation is triggered. Although the fungal filaments and spores are microscopic, the colony can be very large with individuals of some species rivaling the mass of the largest animals or plants.

The Kingdom Fungi includes some of the most important organisms, both in terms of their ecological and economic roles. By breaking down dead organic material, they continue the cycle of nutrients through ecosystems. In addition, most vascular plants could not grow without the symbiotic fungi, or mycorrhizae, that inhabit their roots and supply essential nutrients. Other fungi provide numerous drugs (such as penicillin and other antibiotics), foods like mushrooms, truffles and morels, and the bubbles in bread, champagne, and beer.

Fungi also cause a number of plant and animal diseases: in humans, ringworm, athlete's foot, and several more serious diseases are caused by fungi. Because fungi are more chemically and genetically similar to animals than other organisms, this makes fungal diseases very difficult to treat. Plant diseases caused by fungi include rusts, smuts, and leaf, root, and stem rots, and may cause severe damage to crops. However, a number of fungi, in particular the yeasts, are important "model organisms" for studying problems in genetics and molecular biology.

Fungi Mushrooms-Fungi 

Fields of Microbiology

There are various fields of Microbiology. A few of them are as follows:

• Microbial physiology: The study of how the microbial cell functions biochemically. Includes the study of microbial growth, microbial metabolism and microbial cell structure.

• Microbial genetics: The study of how genes are organized and regulated in microbes in relation to their cellular functions. Closely related to the field of molecular biology.

• Cellular microbiology: A discipline bridging microbiology and cell biology.

• Medical microbiology: The study of the pathogenic microbes and the role of microbes in human illness. Includes the study of microbial pathogenesis and epidemiology and is related to the study of disease pathology and immunology.

• Veterinary microbiology: The study of the role in microbes in veterinary medicine or animal taxonomy.

• Environmental microbiology: The study of the function and diversity of microbes in their natural environments. Includes the study of microbial ecology, microbially-mediated nutrient cycling,geomicrobiology, microbial diversity and bioremediation. Characterisation of key bacterial habitats such as the rhizosphere and phyllosphere, soil and groundwater ecosystems, open oceans or extreme environments (extremophiles).

• Evolutionary microbiology: The study of the evolution of microbes. Includes the study of bacterial systematics and taxonomy.

• Industrial microbiology: The exploitation of microbes for use in industrial processes. Examples include industrial fermentation and wastewater treatment. Closely linked to the biotechnology industry. This field also includes brewing, an important application of microbiology.

• Aeromicrobiology: The study of airborne microorganisms.

• Food microbiology: The study of microorganisms causing food spoilage and foodborne illness. Using microorganisms to produce foods, for example by fermentation.

• Pharmaceutical microbiology: the study of microorganisms causing pharmaceutical contamination and spoil

• Agricultural microbiology: The study of agriculturaly important microorganisms.

(Jobs with the Center For Disease Control and Prevention requires a degree in microbiology for most positions)

• Soil Microbiology: The study of those microorganisms which are found in soil.

• Water microbiology: The study of those micoorganims that's are found in water.

• Generation microbiology: The study of those micoorganims that's have same characters as their parents.

• Nano microbiology: The study of those micoorganims at nano level.

List of a few Organisations of Microbiology

1) Anaerobe Society of the Americas
2) Association for Biology Laboratory Education
3) International Association for Aerobiology
4) International Association for Paratuberculosis
5) International Association for Research on EBV and Associated Diseases
6) International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations

7) International Immunocompromised Host Society
8) International Papillomavirus Society
9) International Sepsis Forum

10) International Society for Antiviral Research (ISAR)
11) International Society for Infectious Diseases
12) International Society for Microbial Ecology
13) International Society for Subsurface Microbiology (ISSM)
14) International Study Group on New Antimicrobial Strategies
15) International Union of Microbiological Societies
16) IWA Specialist Group on Health-related Water Microbiology
17) Pan American Health Organization
18) Pan-American Aerobiology Association (PAAA)

List of Microbiology colleges in India:

1. Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh( Uttar Pradesh )
2. Assam University, Silchar( Assam )
3. Barkatullah Vishwavidyalaya, Bhopal( Madhya Pradesh )
4. Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli( Tamil Nadu )
5. Chaudhary Charan Singh Haryana Agricultural University, Hisar( Haryana )
6. Christian Medical College, Vellore( Tamil Nadu )
7. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University : Faculty of Science & Faculty of Life Sciences, Aurangabad( Andhra Pradesh )
8. Fergusson College, Pune( Maharashtra )
9. Goa University : Faculty of Science, Taleigao Plateau( Goa )
10. Gujarat University : Faculty of Science, Ahmedabad( Gujarat )
11. Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar( Punjab )
12. Himachal Pradesh Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Kangra( Himachal Pradesh )
13. Jiwaji University : Faculty of Sciences & Faculty of Life Sciences, Gwalior( Madhya Pradesh )
14. Karnatak University, Dharwad( Karnataka )
15. Lalit Narayan Mithila University, Darbhanga( Bihar )
16. Lovely Professional University, Phagwara( Punjab )
17. Mahatma Gandhi University : Faculty of Applied Science, Kottayam( Kerala )
18. Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal( Karnataka )
19. Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Tirunelveli( Tamil Nadu )
20. Orissa University of Agriculture & Technology, Bhubaneshwar( Orissa )
21. Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University, Raipur( Chhattisgarh )
22. Parikh Manilal Baldevdas (P.M.B.) Gujarati Science College, Indore( Madhya Pradesh )
23. Ponnaiyah Ramajayam Institute of Science & Technology, Thanjavur( Tamil Nadu )
24. Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education And Research, Chandigarh( Chandigarh )
25. Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, Nagpur( Maharashtra )
26. Sardar Patel University, Vallabh Vidyanagar( Gujarat )
27. Seedling Academy of Design, Technology and Management, Jaipur( Rajasthan )
28. Shri Gujarati Samaj Innovative College of Commerce & Science, Indore( Madhya Pradesh )
29. Sri Krishna Devaraya University , Anantapur( Andhra Pradesh )
30. Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University, Chennai( Tamil Nadu )
31. University of Calcutta, Kolkata( West Bengal )
32. University of Calicut, Kozhikode( Kerala )
33. University of Kerala : Faculty of Science, Thiruvananthapuram( Kerala )
34. University of Mumbai, Mumbai( Maharashtra )
35. University of Pune : Faculty of Science, Pune( Maharashtra )
36. Utkal University, Bhubaneshwar( Orissa )
37. All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi( Delhi )
38. Assam University, Silchar( Assam )
39. Andhra University : College of Science and Technology, Vishakapatnam( Andhra Pradesh )
40. Banaras Hindu University : Faculty of Science, Varanasi( Uttar Pradesh )
41. Bharathiar University, Coimbatore( Tamil Nadu )
42. Bhavnagar University, Bhavnagar( Gujarat )
43. Chhatrapati Shahu Ji Maharaj University, Kanpur( Uttar Pradesh )
44. Delhi University, New Delhi( Delhi )
45. Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Avadh University, Faizabad ( Uttar Pradesh )
46. Gauhati University : Faculty of Science, Guwahati( Assam )
47. Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Nainital( Uttarakhand )
48. Gulbarga University : Faculty of Science & Technology, Gulbarga( Karnataka )
49. Gurukula Kangri Vishwavidyalaya, Hardwar( Uttarakhand )
50. Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla( Himachal Pradesh )

A few Companies related to Microbiology

1) Zeta Corporation

Zeta Rod patented capacitor-based technology electronically disperses bacteria and mineral colloids in aqueous systems, eliminating biofouling and scale without the use of additive chemicals.

Colloids in water systems become components of the capacitor and receive a strong boost to their natural surface charge, altering double-layer conditions that govern particle interactions.

Bacteria are unable to attach, absorb nutrition, or replicate into colonies. Existing biofilm hydrates excessively, loses bonding strength and disperses. Biofilm, biocorrosion, and scale formation are arrested.

Zeta Rod™ systems are currently at work protecting industrial cooling, reverse osmosis membranes, flocculation processes, glass container shear lubricants, metal working fluids, and water distribution piping.

2) United-Tech, Inc.

United-Tech, Inc. provides natural solutions for oil spill cleanup, environmental compliance issues, wastewater management, and much more.

3) Biotechfrontiers

Microbiological quality control company.

4) BTF Pty Ltd

Providing the world's most precise reference standards for microbiological testing.

5) Bio-Pruf

Offering a family of Bio-Pruf biostabilizing additives, to protect products from premature microbial degradation and failure, thus increasing their effective and useful life.

6) SL Microtest GmbH
Specializing in UV Laser Microdissection.

7) Prime Impression
An introduction to Prime Impression services and a resource for job seekers and career changers.

8) Research Instruments
Specializing in micromanipulation.

9) CEBTech Services
Providing services in Biotechnology, fermentation technology, cell culture, bioprocess control, laboratory design, pilot plant design, start-up, bioreactor modification, biosensor development, and down stream processing.

The world of Biomolecular Screening.

Thus it can be concluded that while there are undoubtedly some who fear all microbes due to the association of some microbes with various human illnesses, many microbes are also responsible for numerous beneficial processes such as industrial fermentation (e.g. the production of alcohol, vinegar and dairy products), antibiotic production and as vehicles for cloning in higher organisms such as plants. Scientists have also exploited their knowledge of microbes to produce biotechnologically important enzymes such as Taq polymerase, reporter genes for use in other genetic systems and novel molecular biology techniques such as the yeast two-hybrid system.

Recent research has suggested that microorganisms could be useful in the treatment of cancer. Various strains of non-pathogenic clostridia can infiltrate and replicate within solid tumors. Clostridial vectors can be safely administered and their potential to deliver therapeutic proteins has been demonstrated in a variety of preclinical models.


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      Azharudeen, Iaswaran, Prem 

      4 years ago

      The information in your website are very useful for us. We are the jobseekers, this information is very intersting review as we studied before.


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      Tim Sandle 

      4 years ago from London, United Kingdom

      Very interesting review of microbiology and its origins.

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      kashif nazir 

      5 years ago

      its enough for the basic information of new person....hope u will devolpe it more for the peoples who wants to know about microbilogy.thanks

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      5 years ago

      Hi Sunita

      Iam very much happy with this comprehnensive and important information you have provided.I promise to tell others about this site.Keep on the good work.

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      5 years ago

      Hi sunita

      The details have got are sufficient for me..... am a student taking microbiology.

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      6 years ago

      ITs very gOod to know for us

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      Dr somesh sharma 

      6 years ago

      Hi sunita

      nice to read your collection. i am also teaching the same to my students. keep it up

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      6 years ago

      I need details information

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      Owadayo Funke Agnes 

      6 years ago

      Infact,i am very happy with this information, it gives me more interest to know more about microbiology, it also encourages me to continue as a microbiologist in my study.

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      6 years ago

      Thankyou for the information you have presented here.It helped me save my time on this assignment.

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      John boss 

      6 years ago

      I johnboss was very pleased with your information on microbiology,you helped me with your notes to do my assignment and reseach.Thank you so much and and I would like to know more about microbiology,cose I'av been diciding to take science...

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      6 years ago

      miss sharma u made it look very simple easy to understand for commonman , loved the really u made it look short n clear.

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      6 years ago

      wah wah balllay

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      6 years ago

      this is nice. I like the stuff and it really helping me so much

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      Dan Kundun 

      6 years ago

      I have been accepted to work as a technical assistant with the microbiology section of the biology department at the University of Papua New Guinea. I very much regret that I haven't taken any microbiolgy courses while at school, however I am very much interested in microbiology and I'm willing to learn more about the topic.

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      7 years ago

      hi sunitha,first of all i thank you for your valuable notes on microbiology..

      Myself chaitanya a post grad in Microbiology,i am looking for a beterplacement in my field,though am working since two years first in beverage industry and now with a scientist,i need to know better prospects ,could you please help me

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      7 years ago

      i like this information,i think it is very important to know all people to get read, in the last two decates it becomes a very interesting topics,i also want to become a microbiologist

    • sunitasharma091 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Pune

      Thank you for your appreciation

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      7 years ago


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      7 years ago from India

      Hi Sunita,

      I like the information presented here, these are the topics that i really like to read as I am from the same field and serving my role as a teacher of this subject. Keep up the excellent work. coz, this is the stuff our students are searching for.

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      MBA Colleges in Orissa 

      8 years ago

      Hey! Nice post. Keep up the good work.


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