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  Microbiology (Greek, ‘study of small life’) is the study of microorganisms, or organisms not visible to the naked eye. The field normally encompasses the study of bacteria, protozoans, single-celled fungi and algae, and may include viruses, though these are not cells and are often considered a special case. The members of these groups are extremely diverse and are usually unlike either animals or plants; they are taxonomically subdivided into a number of distinct groups, many of which have been barely investigated. The scientific study of these organisms has clear beginnings in the 17th century, with the advent of the microscope; microorganisms were first described in the 1670s by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. However, there was little immediate interest and little experimental study until the work of pioneers in the 19th century, such as Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch who made discoveries concerning the ubiquity of microorganisms and their importance to humans. This was the tip of the iceberg, and enormous interest was aroused.

Throughout the 20th century microbiology has grown to cover a wide range of fields from brewing and biotechnology to biological warfare. The subject has also increasingly attracted those who wish to study evolution, development and genetics because the simpler, single-celled organisms provide excellent models. RB

See also abiogenesis; bacteriology; molecular biology; protozoology; virology.



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