Blood cell infected with malaria parasite

Malaria is caused by the single-celled parasite Plasmodium. It is transmitted from one person to another by certain species of blood sucking mosquito. The parasite spends part of its complex life cycle inside red blood cells.

More about microbes

Microbes and basic principles

Microbes, as living organisms, can be used to teach many of the basic principles of biology, just as well as plants and animals. For example algae can be used to teach photosynthesis.

Basic principles Learning outcomes Examples
Structure and function Teaching the difference between eukaryotes and prokaryotes Fungi and algae are eukaryotes
Microscopy Microscopy skills Mixed cultures of algae and protozoa can be used to observe phenomena such as chemotaxis and predation
Photosynthesis and respiration
  • Aerobic and anaerobic respiration
  • Photosynthesis
  • Yeasts
  • Immobilized algae
Ecology and diversity Biodiversity, the effect of abiotic and biotic factors on the distribution of organisms Ecological succession can be taught through gut microbiota
Evolution and natural selection Antibiotic resistance and host pathogen-interactions MRSA
Genetics Gene technology, gene therapy, and genetically modified crops
  • Bacterial plasmids
  • Viruses such as bacteriophages and adenoviruses


Microbiology and How Science Works (HSW)

Microbiology can be used to exemplify some of the HSW criteria across the key stages. The table below highlights how microbiology can be used at key stage 5 to support the criteria for HSW .

Criteria Learning outcomes Microbiology examples
Use theories, models and ideas to develop and modify scientific explanations. Explain how the development of scientific theories involves forming a hypothesis, collecting and interpreting data and creative thinking. Progress is made when validated evidence supports a new theory. Scientific models can be used to explain and develop scientific concepts.
  • The development of the germ theory of disease.
  • The discovery that HIV was the causative agent of AIDS.
Appreciate the tentative nature of scientific knowledge. Understand how scientific theories are developed, refined, supported or refuted as new data or its interpretations become available. The role of molecular biology in the development of the 3 domain system of classification.
Consider applications and implications of science and appreciate their associated benefits and risks. Evaluate the benefits and risks of scientific activities to the environment, humans and other organisms. Discuss the actual levels of risk, consequences, uncertainties and people’s perception of risk relating to these activities.
  • New medical treatments, e.g. gene therapy and virotherapy.
  • Monoclonal antibodies and their therapeutic use.
Consider ethical issues in the treatment of humans, other organisms and the environment Identify ethical issues associated with the application of science. Appreciate the impact of science on the environment, humans and other organisms and discuss these issues from a range of viewpoints.
  • Introduction of the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine.
  • Synthetic biology and the use of recombinant DNA technology in agriculture, industry and medicine.
Appreciate the role of the scientific community in validating new knowledge and ensuring integrity. Describe how new scientific findings are critically evaluated and validated by other scientists who communicate via peer-reviewed journals and conferences.
  • The work of learned societies e.g. the Society for General Microbiology, in publishing and holding scientific conferences.
  • Clinical trials for the development of new drugs and vaccines. The role of peer review.
Appreciate the ways in which society uses science to inform decision-making. Appreciate how science influences decision-making on an individual, local, national or international level. Prior beliefs, personal interest, public opinion, the media and expert scientific evidence all influence decision makers.
  • The MMR vaccine controversy and the role of the media, scientists, medics, politicians and parents.
  • Making decisions about controlling animal diseases, e.g. bird flu, foot-and-mouth disease and bovine tuberculosis.
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