Over the past several centuries, we have learned to manipulate light to peer into previously invisible worlds—those too small or too far away to be seen by the naked eye. Through a microscope, we can examine microbial cells and colonies, using various techniques to manipulate color, size, and contrast in ways that help us identify species and diagnose disease. This chapter explores how various types of microscopes manipulate light in order to provide a window into the world of microorganisms. By understanding how various kinds of microscopes work, we can produce highly detailed images of microbes that can be useful for both research and clinical applications.
- 3.1: How Microscopes Work
- Visible light consists of electromagnetic waves that behave like other waves. Hence, many of the properties of light that are relevant to microscopy can be understood in terms of light’s behavior as a wave. An important property of light waves is thewavelength, or the distance between one peak of a wave and the next peak. The height of each peak (or depth of each trough) is called the amplitude.
- 3.2: Staining Microscopic Specimens and Descriptions
- In their natural state, most of the cells and microorganisms that we observe under the microscope lack color and contrast. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to detect important cellular structures and their distinguishing characteristics without artificially treating specimens. Here, we will focus on the most clinically relevant techniques developed to identify specific microbes, cellular structures, DNA sequences, or indicators of infection in tissue samples, under the microscope.
- 3.3: Cells as Living Things
- The theory of spontaneous generation states that life arose from nonliving matter. It was a long-held belief dating back to Aristotle and the ancient Greeks. Experimentation by Francesco Redi in the 17th century presented the first significant evidence refuting spontaneous generation by showing that flies must have access to meat for maggots to develop on the meat. Louis Pasteur is credited with conclusively disproving the theory and proposed that “life only comes from life.”
Thumbnail: A compound microscope in a Biology lab. (CC -BY-SA 4.0; Acagastya).