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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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Programme requirements

Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in Microbiology

Level Papers Points

CELS 191  Cell and Molecular Biology

CHEM 111  Chemistry: Molecular Architecture  or  CHEM 191  The Chemical Basis of Biology and Human Health

HUBS 191  Human Body Systems 1





MICR 221  Microbes to Medicine

MICR 222  Microbes in Action

MICR 223  Infection and Immunity

GENE 221  Molecular and Microbial Genetics





300-level Four of:
MICR 331  Food Microbiology
MICR 332  Health Microbiology
MICR 334  Advanced Immunology
MICR 335  Molecular Microbiology
MICR 336  Applied and Environmental Microbiology
MICR 337  Virology

162 further points; must include 36 points at 200-level or above.

Up to 90 points may be taken from outside Science

Total   360

Bachelor of Science with Honours (BSc(Hons)) in Microbiology

  • MICR 490  Research Project

  • MICR 461  Molecular Microbiology

  • MICR 463  Trends in Microbiology

  • MICR 464  Medical Microbiology and Immunology

    At least five 300-level papers including at least four of:
    MICR 331  Food Microbiology
    MICR 332  Health Microbiology
    MICR 334  Advanced Immunology
    MICR 335  Molecular Microbiology
    MICR 336  Applied and Environmental Microbiology
    MICR 337  Virology
    MICR 360  Special Topics: Preparation for Postgraduate Study (highly recommended)

Postgraduate Diploma in Science (PGDipSci) in Microbiology


Master of Science (MSc) in Microbiology

Papers and Thesis
  • MICR 495  Master's Thesis Preparation

  • MICR 461  Molecular Microbiology

  • MICR 462  Microbiology and Immunology Research

  • MICR 463  Trends in Microbiology

  • MICR 464  Medical Microbiology and Immunology

  • Thesis: MICR 5

    Note: The papers are normally taken before undertaking the thesis.

Minor subject requirements

Microbiology as a minor subject for a BA, MusB, BPA, BTheol, BSc, BAppSc, BCom, 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 Applied Science (BAppSc), Bachelor of Commerce (BCom), 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

Level Papers Points

At least one of

  • CELS 191  Cell and Molecular Biology
  • CHEM 111  Chemistry: Molecular Architecture
  • CHEM 191  The Chemical Basis of Biology and Human Health
  • HUBS 191  Human Body Systems 1



Two of



Two 300-level MICR papers


Note: (i) Prerequisites for MICR 221 and MICR 222 include CELS 191, CHEM 191 or CHEM 111; for MICR222 include CELS191 and CHEM191; and for MICR 223 include HUBS 191.
(ii) Students who have passed at least one of CELS 191, CHEM 191, 111, or HUBS 191 as part of another subject’s requirements do not need to pass another one of these papers to fulfil the Microbiology minor subject requirements.

Total   90


Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a selection of on-campus papers will be made available via distance and online learning for eligible students.
Find out which papers are available and how to apply on our COVID-19 website

Paper code Year Title Points Teaching period
MICR221 2021 Microbes to Medicine 18 points Semester 1
MICR222 2021 Microbes in Action 18 points Semester 2
MICR223 2021 Infection and Immunity 18 points Semester 2
MICR331 2021 Food Microbiology 18 points Semester 1
MICR332 2021 Health Microbiology 18 points Semester 2
MICR334 2021 Advanced Immunology 18 points Semester 1
MICR335 2021 Molecular Microbiology 18 points Semester 1
MICR336 2021 Microbial Ecology 18 points Semester 2
MICR337 2021 Virology 18 points Semester 2
MICR360 2021 Research Perspectives 18 points Full Year
MICR461 2021 Molecular Microbiology 20 points Semester 1
MICR462 2021 Microbiology and Immunology Research 20 points Full Year, 1st Non standard period
MICR463 2021 Trends in Microbiology 20 points Semester 2
MICR464 2021 Medical Microbiology and Immunology 20 points Semester 1
MICR480 2021 Research Project 40 points Full Year, 1st Non standard period
MICR490 2021 Dissertation 60 points Full Year, 1st Non standard period
MICR495 2021 Master's Thesis Preparation 40 points Full Year, 1st Non standard period

Key information for future students

Contact us

Department of Microbiology and Immunology
School of Biomedical Sciences