Research in microbiology can be either pure research, or include aspects of clinical trials (eg. drug trials). Each school in Canada has their own research specialties; common themes include immunology (eg. HIV), molecular genetics, epidemiology, tumor biology (eg. cancer), and infectious diseases.
Clinical trials usually involve hospital patients and thus draw upon other disciplines such as general medicine, immunology, pharmacology, and toxicology. Research in these areas is a collaborative endeavor amongst universities, hospitals, and research centers, and can include collaborations with other regions or countries.
Non-medical microbiology research includes identifying and quantifying novel microbes discovered in hostile environments. These microbes can be used as surrogates for experiments to determine if life exists on other planets. Recently, microbes have been found to exist in the absence of phosphorus and use arsenic as an alternative, which is unique on Earth. Discoveries such as this open up the biological possibilities of what other life may look like.
As well, microbes are being genetically engineered to aid in more prosaic endeavors, such as minimizing food spoilage, combating pests, or improving crop yields. For example, the genes from Bt microbes are being used to grow crops that are more resistant to insect pests and need less insecticide application. Other research focuses on environmental microbes that can ingest pollutants such as petroleum, and are being used to aid in spill clean-ups.