Despite how tiny microbes are, they significantly impact every process on Earth, such as climate change, nutrient cycling, and biodegradation. If you are a sterile processing technician (SPT), understanding how these microorganisms work is critical knowledge you need for your CBSPD verification or recertification exam.
Microbiology is one of the many subjects you will be taught in a CSPDT certification program. After all, SPTs are tasked with decontaminating and sterilizing medical instruments from harmful microbes that could cause infection across patients. To help you with your CBSPD certification requirements, browse our infographic about microbiology.
What is Microbiology?
Microbiology is the scientific study of microorganisms. "Micro" means small, while "biology" refers to the study of living things.
Microbiology is vital in medicine since it allows us to discern which organism causes infectious diseases from those necessary for us to live.
Microbiology is a vast area of science, and it is divided into many subfields of study:
- Bacteriology – the study of bacteria
- Parasitology – the study of parasites
- Mycology – the study of fungi
- Protozoology – the study of protozoa
- Phycology/Algology – the study of algae
- Virology – the study of viruses
- Nematology – the study of nematodes
- Immunology – the study of the immune system
Ten Facts about Microbiology
Microbiology is a fascinating scientific concept. Below, you will discover several interesting facts proving how big the microscopic realm truly is.
The Largest Bacteria is Visible to the Naked Eye
Many of us believe bacteria are too small to see, and while this is inherently true, there is one strain large enough for our naked eyes to recognize.
The Thiomargarita magnifica is shaped like a human eyelash and is reportedly around a centimeter in length, making it 5000 times larger than other giant bacteria. This gargantuan microbe was discovered attaching itself to the leaves amongst the Mangroves of the island of Guadeloupe.
The Smallest Bacteria is the Mycoplasma
Speaking of bacteria size, Mycoplasmas measure roughly about 0.1 micron (µm) in diameter, making it the smallest cell capable of independent growth and self-replication. Mycoplasmas are parasitic bacteria that can infect various body parts, including the bladder, respiratory system, and waste disposal organs.
Mycoplasmas lack a cell wall around their cell membranes, making them resistant to most common antibiotics like penicillin.
We are only about 43% Human
It has been a common misconception that bacteria in our body outnumber our human cells 10 to 1. While it is true that there may be more microbes in our bodies than in human cells, the proportion is incorrect.
According to Prof Rob Knight from the University of California in San Diego, the current estimate is 43% human cells, and microbes dominate the rest. But since these microorganisms are smaller, their total mass is estimated at around 200g, making us 99.7% human by weight.
Tobacco led to the Discovery of Viruses
In 1887, Dmitri Ivanovsky was sent to Ukraine and Bessarabia to investigate a disease damaging Tobacco plants. Three years later, he was sent to Crimea for a similar reason. Through Chamberland filters, Ivanovsky found an "extremely small infectious agent" caused the disease.
In 1898, Dutch scientist Martinus Beijerinck carried out a similar experiment and found a new infectious agent he named a "virus." Still, he and Ivanovsky mistook it for a toxin produced by bacteria. It wasn't until the invention of electron microscopes in the 1950s that they discovered the true nature of viruses.
Penicillin came from Mold
Before antibiotics, there was no cure for infections such as pneumonia and rheumatic fever.
In 1928, Alexander Fleming, a professor of bacteriology at St. Mary's Hospital in London, found mold could kill harmful bacteria while sorting through his Petri dishes containing Staphylococcus. This discovery led to the development of penicillin, the first true antibiotic.
About 50% of our Oxygen comes from Microbes
You might think plants exclusively produce the air we breathe. Still, you may be surprised that half of the Earth's oxygen supply comes from tiny photosynthesizing creatures called phytoplankton in oceans. Though it is considered the smallest photosynthetic organism, Prochlorococcus contributes 20% oxygen.
Microbes are Found Everywhere
No matter where you are, there will always be microorganisms. These tiny creatures inhabit almost every place on Earth, including extreme environments like volcanic depths, salt flats, deep ocean depths, and areas with little to no oxygen. Like any living thing, each microbe has its geographical preference, so not all types can be found everywhere.
The Flu Killed more people than in World War I
Believe it or not, the Influenza outbreak in 1918 killed more people than in World War I. WWI claimed an estimated 16 million lives, while the epidemic claimed an estimated 50 million people. The Flu severely affected 25% of the U.S. population, cutting the average life expectancy by 12 years.
The Toughest Microorganism can withstand Radiation
The most robust microorganism can withstand extreme levels of radiation. Called Deinococcus Radiodurans, this bacteria's sturdiness is credited to its highly efficient protection against proteome damage. Proteome ensures cell recovery from radiation damage by repairing disintegrated DNA.
This bacterium can also survive acids, vacuum exposure, and lack of water.
Microbes are Slowly Becoming Resistant to Antibiotics
Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria, but according to the World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is rising to alarmingly high levels globally. Antibiotic resistance is attributed to a natural occurrence, but misuse of antibiotic medicine in humans and animals is accelerating the process.
Microbiology in Hospitals
Microbiology plays a pivotal part in diagnosing, treating, and preventing infections caused by microorganisms.
Microbiologists are crucial in upholding human health by helping us treat diseases, but when it comes to preventing their spread, sterile processing technicians are the experts. SPTs ensure that all medical equipment and tools are decontaminated and sterilized. They may not work directly with patients, but they lend a hand in keeping them safe and healthy.
To learn more about the role of sterile processing technicians and how to become one, visit Martinson College.