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6 Essential Microbiology Labs Skills for Career Building

Ginelle Testa
Teaching with Labster
November 14, 2022

Career readiness is always on the minds of students and teachers, both at the high school and university levels. As students think about future career tracks in microbiology, specific skills are needed to build up their readiness. They can begin thinking about them in the classroom.

We’ve identified six essential lab skills based on microbiology resume listings on the job platform, Zippia. Each lab skill is for microbiology career building, and we’ve included accompanying virtual labs that can help instructors teach them. 

  1. Biosafety
  2. Gram stains
  3. ELISA
  4. Preparation of bacterial smears
  5. Aseptic technique
  6. Handling microorganisms

1. Biosafety

Students must become familiar with the basic protocols to ensure safety (e.g. personal protective equipment (PPE) and primary containment). Every part of the laboratory is designed to avoid contamination. This includes why the pressure in the laboratory needs to be controlled at all times (secondary containment) and how the microbiological safety cabinets are designed to offer protection. Biosafety is a must-know for students!

In the Biosafety virtual lab, students will be introduced to the concept of laboratory containment, a very special laboratory type required to work with hazardous pathogens (containment level 3 - Biosafety level 3, BSL3).

Biosafety GIF

2. Gram stains

The gram stain is a standard microbiology laboratory test that can quickly diagnose the presence of a bacterial infection. It’s a differential staining technique that differentiates nearly all bacterial species into two large groups based on structural differences in the cell wall (gram-negative and gram-positive).

In our virtual lab, Gram Stain: Test yourself in Gram Stain Procedure, students will familiarize themselves with details about the Gram Stain procedure. They’ll learn about reagents used during the experiment and repeat the protocol to be ready for real-time gram staining!


Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) is a biochemical assay that uses antibodies and enzyme-mediated color changes to detect the presence of either antigens (proteins, peptides, hormones) or antibodies in a given sample.

In Labster’s ELISA virtual lab, students will join scientists using a groundbreaking technique for detecting and quantifying substances, such as proteins. The method is called Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). They’ll help a doctor quantify Factor IX protein, which is used for hemophilia drugs.


4. Preparation of bacterial smears

According to the CDC, the process of making a smear preparation is an important skill in the microbiology laboratory and is usually the first step in most staining procedures.

In Labster’s simulation, Using the Gram Stain to Help Diagnose Meningitis students will help doctors identify bacteria in a cerebrospinal fluid sample from a patient suspected of suffering from bacterial meningitis. They’ll start by doing a smear preparation. 

5. Aseptic technique

It’s important to use this method to prevent contamination with microorganisms. For example, remembering to turn on the Bunsen burner and sterilizing their loop between streaks.

In Labster’s Bacterial Isolation virtual lab, after taking samples from a chicken farm, students will work in the virtual laboratory to isolate single colonies of the deadly bacteria among various species. To do so, they’ll learn how to work under sterile conditions and will be able to practice and perfect their plate streaking technique.

bacterial isolation

6. Handling microorganisms

There are a variety of practices students will need to know when handling microorganisms. One of the benefits of virtual labs is that mistakes don’t cost students safety or result in contamination. They can mess up freely so that they don’t do it in the real lab.

In Labster’s simulation, Control of Microbial Growth: Explore decontamination and selective toxicity, a dental patient’s recurrent infection is becoming dangerously septic. Your task is to investigate the cause using diffusion disc assays and prevent further cases by exploring sterilization, decontamination & selectively toxic infection control methods.

Questions for consideration:

  • What are some other ways your microbiology students learn career readiness skills?
  • What are other microbiology skills students will need to know? Try a search of Labster’s catalog to discover virtual labs that match each skill.
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