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1. The Department of Microbiology and its subject of study:

The Department of Microbiology one of the eight departments of study within the Faculty of Science and it is the only department in the Sri Lankan university system that offers Applied Microbiology as a main subject for the B.Sc. Degree.The process towards establishment of the Department of Microbiology commenced in mid 80’s under the vision and guidance of the late Professor I. Balasooriya, Professor of Botany and of Professor S. Widanapathirana, the first Professor in the island on the particular discipline of Microbiology. The Department of Microbiology first stated as an offshoot of the Department of Botany and actual academic work as an independent department of study was commenced in 1990/ 1991.Before 1990s, the teaching of microbiology in universities of Sri Lanka had been traditionally confined to the teaching of Medical Microbiology in Faculties of Medicine. The basic knowledge of applied microbiology was given to students under Botany or other related subjects, but it was not adequate to disseminate the knowledge and expertise in the whole span of the particular subject.A wide range of industries and services require the services of microbiologists and the demand for them increases with the continuing industrial development. The main sectors of economy that require the services of microbiologists are illustrated in the Figure 1.

The graduates of the particular field of study find employment in various industries and services and that include the food, beverages and dairy industries, the molecular biology sector, the fisheries industry, agriculture and farming sectors, the petroleum industry, pharmaceutical industry and the cosmetics industry, drinking water supplies, wastewater treatment, environmental pollution control, diagnostic testing, export industry and the research and development sectors.


Areas that need services of a microbiologist

Food, beverages and dairy industries

Food preservation (prevention of spoilage by microorganisms).Preservatives, osmotic control, refrigeration and freezing, Pasteurization, sterilization, canning.Food safety (prevention of diseases caused by food borne pathogens)Isolation and identification of pathogens, testing for Coliforms, Salmonella, Prevention of contaminations.Food processing:Milk, cheese, butter, yoghurt, curd and other processed dairy products, alcohols, vinegar, soy sauce and other fermented foods, pickles, processed meat products, etc.Microbiological quality standards of foods:Coliform standards, Salmonella testing, total viable counts in meat, fish, poultry, eggs, etc.

The molecular biology sector

Plant and animal disease diagnosis.Medical laboratory diagnostics.ForensicsDevelopment of genetically modified organismsDevelopment of biosensors

The fisheries industry

Sterilization and canningIdentification and control of fish diseases,Fish disease diagnostic technology (PCR etc.)

Agriculture and farming sectors

Improvement of crop productivity.Use of effective microorganisms,Composting and organic fertilizer,Rhizosphere bacteria, isolation and use of efficient strainsManipulation of nitrogen cycleUse of Rhizobium to improve soil nitrification and legume productivity,Encouraging bacterial nitrification, discouraging bacterial denitrificationUse of phosphate solubilising bacteria.Animal disease diagnostics,Plant disease identification and control.Soil microbial quality.

Petroleum industry

Control of microbial degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons.Cleaning of oil pollution/ oil spills using microorganisms.Cleaning of pollution caused by oil sludge using microorganisms.

Pharmaceutical cosmetics industries

Microbiological quality of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.Microbiological quality of herbal /Ayurvedic preparations.Preservation of pharmaceuticals.Biotechnological production of pharmaceuticals including antibiotics and steroids.Efficiency evaluation of antibiotics using standard cultures.

Drinking water supplies

Microbiological quality of drinking water,Coliform testing, Salmonella testing, Total Viable CountsDrinking water purification (Filtration, biofilms)Disinfection (Chlorination and other methods)

Wastewater treatment

Microbiological treatment of polluted water.Optimization of treatment process.Evaluation of the efficiency of treatment plants.

Environmental pollution control

Microbiological bioremediation of metal pollution, pollution caused by dyes and other chemicals.Microbial degradation of organic waste, composting, biogas productionOdor control (Filters, anaerobic digesters).Detection and evaluation of pollution by microbial methods.

Diagnostic testing

Serological diagnostics.Microbiological diagnostics.Molecular biological diagnostics.Antibiotic Sensitivity Testing (ABST)

Export industry

Microbiological quality of export productsFood and beverages, spices, herbal products, Ayurvedic preparations, coir pith and other planting material, tea, coconut, fish, fruits, vegetables, cashew, edible oilsColiform testing, Salmonella testing. Testing for plant pathogens.

Research and development

Research programmes in academia.Research institutes:Medical Research Institute, Veterinary Research Institutes, Rubber Research Institute, Rice Research Institutes, Coconut Research Institute, Sugar Research Institute, Tea Research Institute, Industrial Technology Institute, National Aquatic Resources Authority, Central Environmental Authority, Institute of Fundamental Studies, etc.

In order to provide expertise and to train personnel in different fields of microbiology, an M. Sc Degree programme in Applied Microbiology was commenced in 1978 by the Department of Botany. It was this programme that eventually led to the establishment of the Department of Microbiology in the Faculty of Science.There is a dearth of trained nutritionists in the island and the M.Sc. Degree programme in Food and Nutrition conducted by the Department of Microbiology serves to a certain extent to cater this particular sector.Many industries often require the services of the Department of Microbiology, mainly in the following areas. This is an income generating procedure, of which the benefit is shared among the Department, the Faculty of Science and the University of Kelaniya.

  • Testing for microbiological quality of water, foods, export items.
  • Consultations on prevention of food spoilage, Identification of entry points (Critical Control Points) of spoilage or pathogenic microorganisms (HACCP).
  • Consultations on pollution control.
  • Providing standard microbial cultures.
  • Isolation and identification of microorganisms.


2. The procedure of selection of students to study Microbiology:

All the students enrolled in each academic year by the University of Kelaniya under the Biological Sciences stream, usually above 150 in numbers, are offered a Basic Microbiology course unit in their first semester and, from then on, fifty students are selected to follow Microbiology as a main subject for the B.Sc. (General) Degree. The selection is done strictly on merit basis on the results of the Basic Microbiology course unit examination, which is held in multiple choice format, not leaving even a remotest possibility for subjective errors in the process of evaluation.The selection of students to study for the B.Sc. (Special) Degree in Microbiology, which commences at the end of the second year of studies, is done on examination results alone, not leaving any possibility for subjective errors in selection.The numbers of students who apply to study Microbiology for both B.Sc. (General) and B.Sc. (Special) Degree programmes always exceed the available space, indicating the popular demand for the subject, which has never subsided since the inception of the Department.At present, the space available for students who want to study Microbiology is limited to 50. Seven students from those who study Microbiology as a main subject are selected for the B.Sc. (Special) Degree programme in each academic year.Those who possess a basic degree in the fields of biological sciences, agriculture, medical, dental or veterinary sciences are generally considered as eligible to follow the postgraduate degrees offered by the Department. The selection procedure is finalized through an interview.

3. The measures taken to maintain high academic quality:

3.1. Objectives of teaching of every topic are worked out Lecturers are encouraged to work out what exactly is expected by them from the students to know.

3.2.Teaching is considered as an interactive exercise with students.Lecturers are encouraged to carry out lecturing in the form of an interactive session. They are discouraged to read from notes or to read from multimedia projections on the screen.

3.3. The quality of the question papers is maintained.The question papers are discussed painstakingly at a Department Scrutiny Board meeting, in order to design the best questions in the best possible form. This is in addition to the conventional way of moderation work.