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General Biology vs. Microbiology

by Candice Mancini, studioD

Biology, the study of life, investigates "individual organisms, their communities, and the systems, cells, and processes that make up living matter," according to the College Board. Microbiology, one of many fields of biology, focuses on life at the microscopic level, including algae, viruses and other matter you need a microscope to see. Whereas general biology courses are usually open to all students, microbiology courses are often reserved for students majoring in science or medicine.

General Biology Courses

General or introductory biology courses, which are required of most students majoring in any science or medical field, teach students the major biological principles. Topics include the classification of living things, including bacteria, plants and animals; basic chemistry, including subatomic particles, compounds, molecules and the physical characteristics of water; organic molecular chemistry, including carbohydrates and proteins; the structure and function of cells and membranes; metabolism; genes; biotechnology; and the origin of life. General biology courses usually include a lab that teaches students to employ the scientific method, collect and interpret biological data and use scientific tools, such as microscopes and scales.

Microbiology Courses

Microbiology is the study of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi and algae. Introductory microbiology courses teach methods of sterilization and disinfection; antimicrobial agents, such as chemotherapy; and infection and immunity concepts. Other courses include immunobiology, which investigates the immune system; advanced molecular biology, which looks at DNA and RNA structure; and cell structure and function. Microbiology courses often include a lab, allowing students to investigate microorganisms through instruments like microscopes and incubators.

General Biology Major

In addition to introductory biology, students who major in general biology must complete vast coursework in science and math, including chemistry, physics, genetics, molecular biology, ecology, statistics and trigonometry. Core subjects, such as English composition, history and psychology, are also required. General biology majors are allowed at least several biology electives, such as zoology, immunology, marine biology and microbiology. A major in general biology prepares students for jobs in research and fieldwork -- such as for medical research laboratories, libraries and cosmetics companies -- or for graduate programs in teaching, health care or a sub-field of biology.

Microbiology Major

Students majoring in microbiology must complete core coursework in math, science and liberal arts, including statistics, calculus, general biology, chemistry, physics, English composition and history. Often, students majoring in microbiology focus on the health sciences, such as pharmacy, nursing and dental hygiene. For students not pursuing health-care fields, a microbiology major prepares students for positions like research assistant and food or environmental microbiologist, or for graduate programs in microbiology. Microbiologists with doctoral degrees can find jobs as scientists, university professors, academic science administrators and research directors.

About the Author

Candice Mancini has always loved matching people with career paths. After earning her master's degree in education from the University at Albany, she spent a decade teaching and writing before becoming a full-time writer. Mancini has published articles and books on education, careers, social issues, the environment and more.

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