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Study Microbiology at Otago

What can’t be seen matters

Microbes are essential for maintaining life on Earth. They comprise more than 50 per cent of the life forms on our planet, yet only around 1 per cent have been identified and studied. Infectious microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, can attack our bodies and we rely on our immune system to protect us. Thus the relationship between microbes and immune cells is critical for our survival.

The University of Otago is the only institution in New Zealand offering bachelor’s degrees in both Microbiology AND Infection and Immunity. The courses provide insights into the unseen world of microbes and the immune system, and an understanding of the practical applications arising from their study.

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Why study Microbiology and Immunology?

Microorganisms are everywhere – in our bodies, our food, the air, soil, and water. Because they're everywhere, they're involved in almost every aspect of our lives.

They are used in producing foods such as cheese, wine, and beer, as well as many pharmaceutical, chemical and agricultural products. They are important for soil fertility and the decomposition of materials but can cause major diseases in humans, animals and plants.

The harmful effects of some microorganisms link microbiology with immunology. Immunologists investigate how we can protect humans and animals from infectious diseases by using vaccines, and the role of the immune system in non-infectious diseases such as cancer.

Career opportunities

An Otago graduate of Microbiology and Immunology will be limited only by their imagination.

Recent developments in fields such as biotechnology, aquaculture, molecular biology, microbial genetics, immunology and medicine have increased the demand for graduates with a microbiology and immunology major. The range of job opportunities continues to expand. Along with the traditional areas of teaching and research, graduates work in medical or veterinary laboratories and biotechnological and agricultural industries. Graduates are also employed as managers and advisers in government agencies.

Graduates with Microbiology and Immunology qualifications find employment in a wide variety of areas.

Microbiology and Immunology at Otago

Microbiology and Immunology degrees

Microbiology is offered as a major for a three- year Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree. We also offer the Infection and Immunity major for a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (BBiomedSc) degree. The BSc will train you in all aspects of microbiology, immunology and virology whereas the BBiomedSc emphasises biomedical subjects. Both can also be taken at honours level, which is an additional one-year programme that includes a significant research project.

The Department also contributes to the teaching of microbiology, immunology, genetics, medicine, and medical laboratory science degrees.

What will I learn?

In your first year, which covers general biology and chemistry subjects, you will learn about the diversity of microorganisms, microbial virulence and diseases and gain basic knowledge of the immune system and how it functions.

In your second year, specialist microbiology and immunology papers will introduce you to microbes in health and disease, immunology, applied and environmental microbiology, microbial plant and animal interactions, biotechnology, ecology, environmental microbiology, molecular genetics and microbial genetics.

In your third year, the papers offered build on your knowledge from second year. Topics cover food production and safety, microbial disease and antibiotic resistance, the body's response
to diseases, microbial ecology, molecular microbiology and virology.

How will I study?

First-year papers are taught through lectures and laboratory sessions and self-directed tutorials. Second- and third-year classes are also taught through lectures and laboratories but encourage more independent thinking and initiative.

In your third year, you will collaborate with other students and improve your oral communication and research skills. Laboratory classes are exciting and hands-on, with modern state-of-the- art facilities. Assessment is by a combination of written examination and internal assessment.

What about further study?

Fourth-year honours or PGDipSci students undertake an original research project and can continue to further postgraduate study, such as an MSc or a PhD. The department has a reputation for a collegial and constructive environment that enables students to achieve to the best of their ability.

Background required

There are no first-year papers labelled microbiology or infection and immunity. Instead, you take papers relating to the biology of cells and human health that include significant coverage of these subjects.

You will also take a paper in biological chemistry, so it is helpful to have studied Year 13 Biology and Chemistry.


Microbiology as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BCom, BEntr, BHealSc, BACom, BASc or BComSc degree

Available as a minor subject for a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Music (MusB), Bachelor of Performing Arts (BPA), Bachelor of Theology (BTheol), Bachelor of Science (BSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), Bachelor of Entrepreneurship (BEntr), Bachelor of Health Science (BHealSc), Bachelor of Arts and Commerce (BACom), Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) or Bachelor of Commerce and Science (BComSc) degree


CELS 191 Cell and Molecular Biology



Two of



Two 300-level MICR papers


 Note: Prerequisites for MICR 221 include CELS 191, CHEM 191 or CHEM 111; for MICR 222 include CELS 191 and CHEM 191; and for MICR 223 include HUBS 191 or PTWY 131*.

* PTWY 131 is only available to students enrolled in the Diploma in Science.

Total 90

MICR papers

Paper Code Year Title Points Teaching period
MICR221 2024 Microbes to Medicine 18 Semester 1
MICR222 2024 Microbes in Action 18 Semester 2
MICR223 2024 Infection and Immunity 18 Semester 2
MICR331 2024 Food Microbiology 18 Semester 1
MICR332 2024 Health Microbiology 18 Semester 2
MICR334 2024 Advanced Immunology 18 Semester 1
MICR335 2024 Molecular Microbiology 18 Semester 1
MICR336 2024 Microbial Ecology 18 Not offered in 2024
MICR337 2024 Virology 18 Semester 2
MICR360 2024 Research Perspectives 18 Full Year
MICR461 2024 Molecular Microbiology 20 Semester 1
MICR462 2024 Microbiology and Immunology Research 20 Full Year, 1st Non standard period
MICR463 2024 Trends in Microbiology 20 Semester 2
MICR464 2024 Medical Microbiology and Immunology 20 Semester 1
MICR480 2024 Research Project 40 Full Year, 1st Non standard period
MICR490 2024 Dissertation 60 Full Year, 1st Non standard period
MICR495 2024 Master's Thesis Preparation 40 Full Year, 1st Non standard period

More information

Contact us

Department of Microbiology and Immunology
School of Biomedical Sciences

Studying at Otago

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Regulations on this page are taken from the 2024 Calendar and supplementary material.

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