Majoring in Microbial Biology

Microbes are the dominant life form on earth, weighing more than all other life forms combined. Bacteria, Fungi, Algae, Protozoa, Viruses; they're everywhere, and we need to know more about them. Industry, government, and academia agree, since we are seeing an increased demand for employees and students with knowledge and skills related to microbial biology.


Microbial biology is a pivotal field of study because small life forms such as microbes, viruses, and fungi make up the majority of planetary biomass, and constitute key branches of the Tree of Life. Microbes play fundamental roles in maintaining biosphere health: they degrade environmental pollutants; they supply essential nutrients and chemicals directly to multi-cellular organisms, and they engage in numerous beneficial symbioses with higher organisms. Infectious diseases regulate populations of plant and animals, and outbreaks recur in human societies globally.

The major investigates interactions between microorganisms and the environment to determine the role microbes play in maintaining the health of our biosphere. This includes how microbes can help combat environmental pollutants, facilitate energy production, and influence the progress of medical research on infectious diseases. Electives in the major are organized into four concentrations: (1) Host-Pathogen Interactions, (2) Ecology and Environmental Microbiology, (3) Evolution/Computational Genomics, and (4) Microbial Biotechnology. Offered by the Department of Plant & Microbial Biology (PMB).

What will I study?

In the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, the Microbial Biology (MB) major involves studying small life forms such as microbes, fungi, and viruses. Classes range in content, and include Virology, California Mushrooms, Plant Genetics, and Modern Applications of Plant Biotechnology.

How much coursework is required?

Students studying in microbial biology will have a solid foundation of math, chemistry, physics, statistics, and biology prior to beginning their upper division coursework. Required upper division requirements focus on biochemistry, genetics, and microbiology (14 units), with an additional six courses chosen from the electives list for Microbial Biology. Many microbial biology majors do one semester or more of research in a lab, and some pursue the honors program or do research through SPUR to undertake their own research projects. Students will fill their schedule with elective courses for a total of 120 units.

What can I do with this major?

The Microbial Biology major provides excellent preparation for:

  • Students interested in competing for research positions in government, industry, and academia
  • Pre-med and pre-vet students
  • Those interested in biology in general
  • Those interested in pursuing graduate degrees in biology and biology-related fields
  • Those wishing to teach biology at the secondary school level


Undergraduate Advisor: 
Patricia Helyer
260 Mulford Hall
University of California 
Berkeley, CA 94720-3100
View our advising hours schedule here

Faculty Advisor:
Kathleen Ryan
Professor, Plant & Microbial Biology