Every year, in UK universities alone, many hundreds of students study microbiology as part of an undergraduate course. For some, the subject will form the major part of their studies, leading to a BSc degree in Microbiology, or a related subject such as Bacteriology or Biotechnology. For the majority, however, the study of microbiology will be a brief encounter, forming only a minor part of their course content.

A number of excellent and well-established textbooks are available to support the study of microbiology; such titles are mostly over 1000 pages in length, beautifully illustrated in colour, and rather expensive. This book in no way seeks to replace or compete with such texts, which will serve specialist students well throughout their three years of study, and represent a sound investment. It is directed rather towards the second group of students, who require a text that is less detailed, less comprehensive, and less expensive! The majority of the students in my own classes are enrolled on BSc degrees in Biology, Human Biology and Forensic Science; I have felt increasingly uncomfortable about recommending that they invest a substantial sum of money on a book much of whose content is irrelevant to their needs. Alternative recommendations, however, are not thick on the ground. This, then, was my initial stimulus to write a book of 'microbiology for the non-microbiologist'.

The facts and principles you will find here are no different from those described elsewhere, but I have tried to select those topics that one might expect to encounter in years 1 and 2 of a typical non-specialist degree in the life sciences or related disciplines. Above all, I have tried to explain concepts or mechanisms; one thing my research for this book has taught me is that textbooks are not always right, and they certainly don't always explain things as clearly as they might. It is my wish that the present text will give the attentive reader a clear understanding of sometimes complex issues, whilst avoiding over-simplification.

The book is arranged into seven sections, the fourth of which, Microbial Genetics, acts as a pivot, leading from principles to applications of microbiology. Depending on their starting knowledge, readers may 'dip into' the book at specific topics, but those whose biological and chemical knowledge is limited are strongly recommended to read Chapters 2 and 3 for the foundation necessary for the understanding of later chapters. Occasional boxes are inserted into the text, which provide some further enlightenment on the topic being discussed, or offer supplementary information for the inquisitive reader. As far as possible, diagrams are limited to simple line drawings, most of which could be memorised for reproduction in an examination setting. Although a Glossary is provided at the end of the book, new words are also defined in the text at the point of their first introduction, to facilitate uninterrupted reading. All chapters except the first are followed by a self-test section in which readers may review their knowledge and understanding by 'filling in the gaps' in incomplete sentences; the answers are all to be found in the text, and so are not provided separately. The only exceptions to this are two numerical questions, the solutions to which are to be found at the back of the book. By completing the self-test questions, the reader effectively provides a summary for the chapter.

A book such as this stands or falls by the reception it receives from its target readership. I should be pleased to receive any comments on the content and style of Essential Microbiology from students and their tutors, all of which will be given serious consideration for inclusion in any further editions.

Stuart Hogg

January 2005

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