Environmental microbiology is the scientific study of the relationship between microorganisms and their environment. This discipline focuses on viruses, bacteria, archaea (single-celled microorganisms), and Eukaryotes. Many microbes, especially bacteria, live in symbiosis with other organisms, relationships that can be either positive or negative. This, combined with their near-omnipresence across the biosphere, means that microorganisms play a fundamental role in all of the environmental systems of life.
Dutch microbiologist (1851-1931) was primarily responsible for developing the science of studying microbes in the environment. It was Sergei Winogradsky (1856-1953), however, who began studying microbes outside of a medical concept, and pioneered the idea of the cycle of life. Modern environmental microbiology was greatly advanced by the work of Robert Hungate (1906-2004), who studied the rumen ecosystem, the site where fermentation of feed occurs in some farm animals, such as sheep or cattle.
Environmental microbiology has discovered that microorganisms form the backbone of all ecosystems, especially in those systems where photosynthesis is impossible due to the absence of light. Many other microbes serve as decomposers, recycling nutrients into the biosphere by breaking down waste products. The importance of microorganisms to the carbon cycle, for example, may prove important in mitigating the effects of global warming.