Submitted Date 02/20/2019

It was 2013 and I was almost finished with my Associate’s degree. I’d passed all of the standard “core” courses, like English, World History, and Trigonometry and was finally taking classes more geared toward my major. As a biology student, this meant I could, at long last, really start getting into the mechanics of life. Looking through the course catalog, I wondered which option would not only suit my schedule in the upcoming semester but also fit into my degree requirements. I ran my finger down the rough recycled paper pages, squinting at the fine print course times and titles.

And that’s when I saw it - Bio 201, Microbiology. A quick cross-reference with my schedule and a swift logon to the registration site and I was off to the bookstore to get my texts. A few weeks later, I walked into the classroom, not realizing that it would change my life forever.

Microbiology is essentially the study of microscopic life. That includes bacteria, fungi, and all sorts of teeny, tiny organisms. And those organisms surround us every day. Some of them are beneficial and some of them are harmful. It’s the harmful ones that really stuck with me. It’s the harmful ones that cause sexually transmitted infections. That’s right, my microbiology class covered all sorts of horrifying diseases that we can get from having sex. Complete with disturbing photographs. After that, I wanted to laminate a chart of diseases and hang it above a basket of condoms in my bedroom. Either that or never let anyone touch me again. Strike one, microbiology.

To look at and experiment with microorganisms, you have to be really, really clean. Sterile even. This involves things like washing your hands for the amount of time it takes to complete a rendition of Happy Birthday. When you’re cleaning your hands this much, you can’t help but realize how little other people are. So, from then on, whenever I touch a doorknob or an electronic display or a library book, I think about who had what on their hands the last time it was touched. When I’m in a restroom and a woman walks out of a stall and straight out the door, skipping the sink, I want to drag her back in and force her to wash up. “This is how the flu gets spread,” I want to say. Strike two, microbiology.

While I’m on the subject of microbes that make us sick, let’s talk about food. In class, I learned that microbes are in the air all the time and that certain bacteria breed exponentially at certain temperatures. So when someone pulls their lasagna out of the oven, it’s relatively germ-free. But, while it sits there, uncovered and cooling on the counter, tiny little bacteria float down and land right on the tomato sauce. And when that sauce reaches just the right temperature, the bacteria grow and grow and grow. So, by the time that person gets around to wrapping up the leftovers and putting them in the fridge, the damage is done. I wash dishes and cover food like it’s my job. The worst feeling in the world is being sick to my stomach. Strike three, microbiology.

Now that I’ve said all of this, I have to confess that my true feelings about microbiology are quite the opposite. If it wasn’t for microbiology, we wouldn’t have discovered the causes, cures, and preventions of most of the things that make us ill. We wouldn’t have vaccines and water treatment. We wouldn’t have quarantines and sterile operating rooms. We’d have to do without antibiotics and flu shots. In short, the study of microbiology is part of the reason the human race is so prosperous; an important part of what keeps most of us alive. My only frustration now is that more people don’t study it.

Related Stories


Please login to post comments on this story