Online course in Health & Psychology

Small and Mighty: Introduction to Microbiology

Understand the basics of microbiology and explore the diversity of microbial life in our world.

  • Duration 3 weeks
  • Weekly study 3 hours
  • Learn Free
  • Extra benefits From $44 Find out more

Discover the fascinating world of microbes

Microbes may be invisible to the eye, but they dominate every environment on Earth – including you. Microbes are often associated with disease yet the majority of species help to keep us alive. How can you distinguish the good from the bad?

On this course, you’ll explore a general introduction to the field of microbiology and investigate the amazing diversity of microbial life. Learn about the significant roles microbes play in health, food, and the environment through expert interviews, lab demonstrations and practical experiments you can try at home.

Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsWe are surrounded by a hidden world of microscopic organisms which affect our lives every day, in mind boggling ways. They first evolved over 4 billion years ago and over time they’ve adapted to thrive in every environment on Earth. Photosynthetic microorganisms in our ocean create more oxygen than all the plants on Earth - but as well as the good guys, there are the bad ones. Despite advances in modern medicine, microbes continue to cause the death of millions of humans worldwide. Why are some microbes good and others bad? How can studying them benefit society and the world around us? Over the next 3 weeks, you will learn about the amazing complexity of microorganisms.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 secondsYou will learn how to make a difference by studying or researching microbiology and have a chance to contribute to solving some of the world’s most pressing issues. Come and join us, and meet some of the experts based here at the University of Reading. See some of the research going on in our labs and meet the next generation of microbiologists.

What topics will you cover?

  • What microbes are: recognise the differences between the 5 major groups (Viruses, Bacteria, Archaea, Fungi and Protists) and where they appear in the tree of life.
  • How microbes function: understand how microbes replicate, grow and exchange genes with each other.
  • Where microbes live: learn how microbes survive and thrive throughout the world, from extreme environments to the surface of our skin.
  • How to study microbes: watch practical demonstrations of common microbiology techniques and learn how microbiologists can identify the culprit of an infection.
  • How to test a hypothesis: carry out your own microbiology experiments and find out how to analyse your results.
  • Why studying microbes is so important: explore how microbiology research benefits society in three key areas - Medical, Food and Environment.
  • How studying microbes can answer questions about evolution: discover how a microbe can rapidly rewire its genes following a life-threatening mutation.

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

  • Available now
    This course started 7 Oct 2019

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Describe the key differences between the five groups of microbe.
  • Explain how microbes replicate and why environmental conditions affect where they live.
  • Differentiate between beneficial and harmful effects of microbes.
  • Discuss ways that microbiology research has, and will continue to, benefit human health, food production and the environment.
  • Explain how microbes evolve and discuss the potential implications of this on the future health of the population and our planet.
  • Conduct simple microbiology experiments and analyse the results in order to draw conclusions.

Who is the course for?

This course is for anyone interested in microbiology. There should be something for everyone – whether you are coming to the course with a fair amount of previous knowledge, or none at all. There will be plenty of help available for those who are completely new to the subject. The course will be of particular interest to those who are studying biology at school or considering applying to a microbiology degree.

Who will you learn with?

Glyn Barrett

Glyn Barrett

I am a research and teaching fellow at University of Reading. My research interests include microbial ecology, marine biology and wildlife conservation. I enjoy rock-climbing, diving and photography.

Who developed the course?

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.

Join this course

Start this course for free, upgrade for extra benefits, or buy Unlimited to access this course and hundreds of other short courses for a year.


Join free and you will get:

  • Access to this course for 5 weeks


Upgrade this course and you will get:

  • Access to this course for as long as it’s on FutureLearn
  • A print and digital Certificate of Achievement once you’re eligible

Unlimited (New!)
$239 $179 for one year

Buy Unlimited and you will get:

  • Access to this course, and hundreds of other FutureLearn short courses and tests for a year
  • A printable digital Certificate of Achievement on all short courses once you’re eligible
  • The freedom to keep access to any course you've achieved a digital Certificate of Achievement on, for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn
  • The flexibility to complete your choice of short courses in your own time within the year
Find out more about upgrades or Unlimited.
Available until 31 October 2019. T&Cs apply.