UC Santa Cruz offers new major in microbiology

Fitnat Yildiz in lab
Microbiologist Fitnat Yildiz, professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology, studies biofilm formation in cholera bacteria. (Photo by Elena Zhukova)

UC Santa Cruz is offering a new major in microbiology leading to a B.S. degree. Administered by the Department of Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology (METX), the new program will begin admitting students in fall 2023.

Students in the microbiology major will study fundamental concepts in biology with a focus on microorganisms and will learn about the importance of microorganisms to life on Earth. They will gain an understanding of the impact of microorganisms on humans and the environment and learn about the applications of microbiology in human health, biotechnology, and environmental fields.

“Microorganisms are great model organisms for understanding fundamental biology, and because they are so prevalent there are many industrial, environmental, and medical applications from microbiology,” said Fitnat Yildiz, professor and chair of METX. “It’s important for students to understand their basic biology, how they function, and how we can use them for different purposes.”

Microbiologists work in a wide variety of capacities, including in biomedical and environmental research; clinical and public health diagnostics labs; the biotechnology industry; and government positions in public health and policy.

“Students with a microbiology degree are in a good position to either work immediately in industry or to get additional levels of training with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees,” Yildiz said.

Yildiz and METX Professor Victoria Auerbuch Stone, who led the development of the new major, worked with other METX faculty to develop new courses for the major. Because the study of microbiology requires an interdisciplinary approach, students will supplement their studies with courses in biochemistry and bioinformatics, and tailor their coursework with electives that can allow them to dive more deeply into medical microbiology, genomics, or ecology.

“It’s an amazing time to be studying microorganisms—it’s really a golden age for this field,” Yildiz said. “Using current technologies in microbiology is giving us a deep understanding and appreciation of microorganisms and of life in general. It’s an exciting field and a lot of fun.”