Monday, 20 November 2017 13:17

Microbial Sciences improve many aspects of public health

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Published in mBiosphere

November 20th, 2017, is Public Health Thank You Day, when public health officials are recognized for the largely behind-the-scenes work they do to improve our everyday health. All microbiology-related research is related to public health, in the long run: research into receptor-ligand interactions may identify a new drug target, investigations into a horse epidemic may halt a potential zoonotic outbreak, and characterizing methanogenic microbes may lead to better wastewater treatments. However, some research is more directly applicable to public health than others.


Characterizing the potential pathogens in a given environment is vital to understanding the public health risk. This could involve investigations to assess unknown viruses, like the study that found a novel coronavirus in bats. Surveillance of antibiotic resistance, such as that found in grocery store produce, also helps public health officials track potential infections and assess the available treatments for recalcitrant infections. Large-scale characterization studies can help develop algorithms that may help predict when a patient’s infection will be drug resistant, improving the speed of proper treatment and overall patient outcome. 

How does this research help inform public policy? Listen to a conversation with Gigi Kwik Gronvall, who discusses preparing for potential pandemics through her work with public policy.

Vaccine efficacy testing

Vaccine campaigns help protect both vaccinated individuals and those who might not be eligible for vaccination, such as the immunocompromised. Many efforts contribute to making vaccines as effective as possible, from improving the vaccine adjuvant to investigating why vaccine composition may have affected immunity to whooping cough.

Awareness programs

Antibiotic resistance awareness programs are designed to educate everyone about the dangers of overusing antibiotics. These programs sometimes target the general public to educate when antibiotics are useful (for example, not for colds caused by viruses) or why proper antibiotic usage is important. Programs also target clinicians, who are urged to prescribe these drugs only when appropriate to ensure that resistance is reduced. The good news is that these campaigns have resulted in improved public health measures, such as lowered infection rates with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and ciprofloxacin-resistant Escherichia coli.

There are many additional examples, including the many ways in which diagnostic tools contribute to all of the subfields listed here. How do you think microbiology protects public health? Share your favorite example in the comments!

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Last modified on Tuesday, 21 November 2017 00:50
Julie Wolf

Julie Wolf is the ASM Science Communications Specialist. She contributes to the ASM social media and blog network and hosts the Meet the Microbiologist podcast. She also runs workshops at ASM conferences to help scientists improve their own communication skills. Follow Julie on Twitter for more ASM and microbiology highlights at @JulieMarieWolf.

Julie earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, focusing on medical mycology and infectious disease. Outside of her work at ASM, she maintains a strong commitment to scientific education and teaches molecular biology at the community biolab, Genspace. She lives in beautiful New York City.