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If you have ever had strep throat or pneumonia, then your body has been adversely affected by bacteria. Bacteriologists study the growth and characteristics of micro-organisms, such as bacteria, fungi and parasites, and their interactions with their environment. They consequently develop industrial, medical and other practical applications. Bacteriologists help scientists 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.

Over the past century, people have grown accustomed to associating bacteria with human or animal disease. However, it is important to understand that not all bacteria cause disease. In fact, many species even play beneficial roles in, say, producing antibiotics and foodstuffs. For instance, did you know that antibiotics were originally developed from mold; like the stuff you would find on old cheese? Nevertheless, the bacteria that causes disease does play a harmful role against humans and animals and bacteriologist study ways to combat these bacteria against disease. Since bacteria can mutate at rapid speeds, it is important to study this phenomenon to fight rampant disease.

Bacteria mutation is based on environmental changes (both inside bodies and outside) such as oxygen, pH levels, climate and water. In addition, they exchange genetic information, usually between members of the same species but occasionally between members of different species. They also investigate how these micro-organisms function in the production of vitamins, antibiotics, amino acids, alcohols and sugars. The results of their research have produced breakthroughs in medical, agricultural, industrial, sanitary, and other scientific fields.

Bacteriologists use a variety of specialized 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 bacteriologist 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.

Most bacteriologists conduct research into the characteristics of bacteria or a particular aspect of bacteriology such as public health bacteriology, pharmaceutical bacteriology, hospital (clinical) bacteriology, environmental microbiology or biotechnology.

Clinical bacteriologists perform laboratory tests to provide physicians with information needed for diagnosis and treatment. They are primarily concerned with the control of bacteriological diseases and other health hazards in the community. This includes isolation and identification of micro-organisms in specimens from patients as well as from water supplies, food and milk.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Bacteriologists 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 and background in microbiology, biochemistry and genetics. Bacteriologists are usually well organized, enjoy working in the laboratory with equipment and performing tasks which require precision.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct research into the structure, function, ecology, biotechnology and genetics of bacteria, fungi, protozoans and algae
  • Isolate organisms in pure culture and identify micro-organisms under controlled conditions
  • Prepare smears, make stains according to recognized procedures and make microscopic examinations of stain slides
  • Observe, identify and classify micro-organisms
  • Isolate micro-organisms involved in breaking down pollutants
  • Prepare diagnostic antigens and antiserums
  • Retest analyzed canned foods for these producing organisms
  • Research viruses such as planting and harvesting influenza, viruses, animal inoculation and autopsy, compliment fixation tests, preparing and transferring suspensions, isolations and preservation of virus
  • Plan, supervise, and participate in the work of identifying and counting bacteria in food, water and the environment to detect harmful micro-organisms and control sources of pollution and contamination
  • Make pathological examinations of fish and wild animals to diagnose disease, recommending control and prevention techniques
  • Bacteriologists work indoors in laboratories and on computers. The pressure of having to meet project deadlines can be stressful and will often result in long hours.. In general, bacteriologists 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 bacteriologists from the risk of disease.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Bacteriologists work for county, state and federal governments, hospitals, colleges and universities, industrial laboratories, companies in the agricultural 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, focusing on individual studies and research projects.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Long term advancement will certainly depend on the education level of the bacteriologist. Those with master's degrees may work as professionals in laboratory settings, performing experiments. Bacteriologists with PhDs may conduct and lead individual and group research projects and teach in universities, manage hospital (clinical) diagnostic bacteriology laboratories or advance to senior scientific appointments in government or industry.

Advancement opportunities for bacteriologists depend on the size and nature of the employing organization and the qualifications of the employee. They 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  
The minimum education requirement for a bacteriologist is a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in microbiology, with courses in bacteriology and genetics. Those who have a bachelor's degree are qualified to work as laboratory assistants or technicians. A master's degree or PhD is usually required for senior research positions. Those who have PhDs may continue their training as post-doctoral fellows. Medical bacteriologists preparing to work in hospitals usually take a medical degree (MD), then specialize in bacteriology.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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