Montana State University

Discover Microbiology

Microbiology is the branch of science dealing with microorganisms. It is one of the most relevant, dynamic and exciting disciplines in the biological sciences.

Microorganisms benefit society by cycling inorganic and organic matter into molecules needed for life and detoxifying discarded wastes. Historically, they have served as microscopic factories for the production of cheeses, alcohol and antibiotics. Microorganisms have also been engineered to produce a wide variety of products for our benefit through the emergence of biotechnology.

Microorganisms have, however, also inflicted great distress to human, animal and plant populations through disease, spoilage of crops, foods and the fouling and degradation of man-made structures. More recently, microorganisms have been used as terrorist weapons.

“It is a privilege to introduce the Department of Microbiology.  This Department has consistently strived over the years to provide the highest academic standards and an outstanding research/learning environment for MSU students. The Microbiology faculty members are internationally recognized for their research, and their focus on both the medical and environmental sciences provides unique training opportunities not found in most institutions.  Microbiology has an amazing and incredibly rich history at MSU.  I have been linked to this department, since my childhood (my father was a faculty member in the ’60 and ‘70s) and into my undergraduate tenure (I graduated from the department in 1982).  Following my return to MSU in 1989, my collaborations with Microbiology faculty helped establish my career. As such, it is an incredible honor to serve as Interim Head, and help the department expand and continue to improve its instructional and research efforts.”  Mark Jutila

Microbiology is a diverse discipline and has become an umbrella term that encompasses many sub disciplines or fields of study. These include:

  • Bacteriology: the study of bacteria
  • Mycology: fungi
  • Protozoology: protozoa
  • Phycology: algae
  • Parasitology: parasites
  • Virology: viruses

An understanding of these various life forms in the environment has created other sub disciplines of: microbial ecology, microbial physiology, microbial genetics and molecular biology. Our need to control infectious diseases has brought about the fields of pathology and immunology. Bioinformatics, the in silico research, is a new area of research in microbiology which analyzes the genomes of life forms.

3D model of Pseudomonas aeruginosa alginate lyase AlgL (movie provided by Mensur Dlakic)

The discipline of microbiology is diverse, and the opportunities for microbiologists are enormous.

Microbiology at MSU

The Department of Microbiology at MSU is a modern department that has kept pace with recent advances in the various sub disciplines of microbiology. We offer courses in each of the fields indicated above.

During the first year of study, each student is assigned an advisor from the Department who works closely with the student to plan the curriculum best suited to his/her interests. Research opportunities are also available for students to work on a laboratory research project under the direction of a faculty member. Currently the department has about 120 undergraduates and 20 graduate students. The Department of Microbiology cooperates with the College of Agriculture in an interdisciplinary degree program in Biotechnology where students can focus on Microbial Systems in Biotechnology.