Microbiology Technologist

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Microbiology Technologist


Many people are unaware of the micro-sized world that humans co-exist with. Just because the human eye cannot detect everything does not mean that the millions of organisms that flourish among us are nonexistent. Interestingly, microbiologists and technologists have identified less than one percent of these species. Microbiology technologists study living things called micro-organisms that are too small to be seen without a microscope. They research bacteria, fungi, viruses, tissues, cells, pharmaceuticals and plant and animal toxins.

Microbiology laboratory technologists play a crucial role in the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. They examine and identify bacteria and other micro-organisms, making cultures of body fluid or tissue samples to determine the presence of fungi and parasites. They also prepare specimens for examination, count cells, and look for abnormal cells. Then they analyze the results and relay them to physicians.

Technologists may receive human or animal body materials from autopsy or diagnostic cases, or collect specimens directly from patients, under the supervision of a laboratory director. They examine materials for evidence of microbial organisms, and may instruct medical laboratory students and other medical personnel in laboratory procedures. The complexity of tests performed, the level of judgment needed, and the amount of responsibility workers assume depend largely on the amount of education and experience they have.

Microbiology technologists help microbiologists and physicians in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infections in animals and humans by investigating how organisms cause disease and their role in disease processes. They also investigate how these micro-organisms function in the production of vitamins, antibiotics, amino acids, alcohols, and sugars. The results of their experiments have produced breakthroughs in medical, agricultural, industrial, sanitary, and other scientific fields.

Microbiology technologists in small laboratories perform many types of tests, while those in large laboratories generally specialize. They use a variety of sophisticated equipment such as gas chromatographs and high pressure liquid chromatographs, electrophoresis units, thermocyclers, fluorescence activated cell sorters and phosphoimagers. They may also use computers in conducting experiments. It is common to find a microbiology technologist peering through the lens of a microscope or performing other related experiments in a laboratory. However, the nature of the work may vary considerably with each assignment.
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  Interests and Skills  
Microbiology technologists need an innate interest in natural phenomena and scientific research, and an inquiring mind. They should have good manual dexterity for transferring micro-organisms from one culture medium to another without contaminating samples, and the ability to pay close attention to details.

Most have a strong aptitude for chemistry, biochemistry and genetics. Microbiology technologists are usually well organized, enjoy working in the laboratory with equipment and performing tasks which require precision.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assist with research about the structure, function, ecology, biotechnology and genetics of micro-organisms, including bacteria, fungi, protozoans, and algae
  • Conduct experiments to isolate and make cultures of specific micro-organisms under controlled conditions
  • Perform tests on water, food and the environment to detect harmful micro-organisms and control sources of pollution and contamination
  • Conduct molecular experiments into genetic expression, gene manipulation and recombinant DNA technology
  • Observe, identify and classify micro-organisms
  • Assist microbiologists in finding ways for micro-organisms to help humans
  • Microbiology technologists, particularly those working in environmental, agricultural and veterinary fields, have the opportunity to work outdoors with microbiologists conducting field studies. However, the majority of the work is performed indoors in laboratories and on computers. The pressure of having to meet project deadlines can be stressful and will often result in longer working hours. Generally, microbiology technologists put in long workweeks. For those working with toxic or harmful chemicals, following safety rules and wearing protective equipment will help avoid chemical injury or exposure to infection. Preventive inoculations will also help to protect medical microbiology technologists from the risk of disease.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Microbiology technologists work for governments, hospitals, colleges and universities, industrial laboratories, companies in the agriculture industry, pharmaceutical companies, food and beverage companies, diagnostic laboratories, biotechnology firms, bioremediation companies, and companies in the oil industry. Contract work is becoming more common in this occupation, as of late.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Long term advancement will certainly depend on the education level of the microbiology technologist. As a general rule, the more education one has, the better the chances of performing more specialized and individual research. Also, other factors may include and depend on the size and nature of the employing organization.

Microbiology technologists can move into related biology fields such as biochemistry, genetics, ecology, virology or biochemical engineering. They can also become clinical technicians in health care facilities, quality control officers in the food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, or bioremediation specialists.

  Educational Paths  
Microbiology technologists generally have a bachelor's degree in microbiology technology or a college technology degree in microbiological sciences. Many technologists work as interns or volunteers for at least a year to gain hands-on educational experience. Students thinking about heading into this career should take courses in science, mathematics and even computers.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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