Microbiology is the study of the smallest living organisms (bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa) and viruses. Because of their simplicity and rapid growth rates, microorganisms are readily amenable to study in the laboratory. Also, because their cellular processes closely resemble those of higher organisms, they are ideally suited for fundamental studies of biological structure, physiology, metabolism, genetics, and development.
Since the time of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, microorganisms have been known to be the causative agents of infectious diseases. Thus, one important area of microbiology is medical microbiology. Microorganisms are also important in a number of other areas and disciplines such as wastewater (i.e. sewage) treatment, food microbiology, production of antibiotics, and water treatment.
Finally, microorganisms play unique and important roles in the global cycling of elements. For example, their activities influence the greenhouse effect through production of some of the greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide as well as in the removal of these same substances through metabolic processes of other microorganisms (such as primary production and methane oxidation). Bacteria are also important agents in the bioremediation of toxic compounds, another area of recent environmental concern.
The Department offers, through the College of Arts & Sciences, a variety of courses which fulfill the Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology. In addition, the Department offers three courses for non-majors (Microm 101, 301 and 302), which fulfill the University of Washington Natural Science distribution requirement and are admissions requirements for students applying to the Schools of Nursing and Pharmacy, as well as the Physical Therapy Program. The department also sponsors a freshman seminar course.