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Microbiology is the study of organisms that at some point in their life exist as single cells and contain a nucleic acid genome that can replicate. Many organisms fall into this definition including algae, fungi, protozoa, bacteria and archaea. Together these organisms have a profound impact on the biosphere, making up the majority of life both in number and total mass. Microbes cause many illnesses, and understanding these infections has led to cures and better treatments. The emergence of new infectious agents will spur continued interest in microbiology. Many more microbes grow harmlessly in the environment, taking advantage of chemicals and/or sunlight to grow. Research into these microbes has also helped us understand the basic framework of life and revealed the basic fundamental rules that govern living systems. In the past, microbes have been used in experiments to answer many scientific questions, and they will continue to serve as excellent tools of inquiry in the future. A significant number of these discoveries have led to important applications in many areas of human endeavor.
Microbiology is constantly changing. Most of what we will discuss consists of well-established principles, and it would be astounding if these changed. However, we have tried to keep this book on the cutting edge of the science of small things as possible. When you live this close to the edge, you are bound to get some cuts, and some of what you read here today, could change when more is known later. Keep that in mind.
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