“The Microbiology Lab in 2050….”

What will you be doing in 2050?

I will be 77. Fingers crossed I will still be alive. If so, I will probably still be working, as by then the retirement age will likely have gone up to 80!

Have you thought about how clinical microbiology laboratories in general might look in 2050?

Here are my thoughts:

  • They will be highly automated. Much more like the biochemistry and haematology departments of today.
  • They will generally be big. Because of the above, laboratory “capacity” will often be far in excess of (local) demand.
  • They will be virtually paperless. Accreditation agencies will insist on electronic audit trails and fully interfaced hardware, and rightly so.
  • Electronic ordering will be the norm. …and with it the ability to reject tests due to insufficient details or because a similar test was done a couple of days ago.
  • For bacteria, culture will still be around, but in a hands off mode. I suspect genital and enteric bacteriology will have gone completely molecular. Testing of general wound swabs, respiratory samples, urines and sterile site samples will probably still be culture based in part, but culture inspection will almost certainly be of a digital image, as part of an automated processing system.
  • Antimicrobial Resistance Testing will remain controversial. Likely to remain a combination of phenotype, genotype, and increasingly proteotype.
  • Maldi-TOF will have evolved. ID of filamentous fungi and mycobacteria will be routine on Malditof. Several different resistance determinants will be identifiable by mass spectrometry. The hardware will be more sophisticated than currently.
  • Sequencing will be common. More common than nowadays, but I suspect their main role will still be in roles outwith routine diagnostic microbiology, eg genetic tumour markers, HLA typing, outbreak typing etc.
  • Microscopes will be very different. Will be completely digital, with viewing and manipulation done on a large screen. Looking “down” a microscope will be a thing of the past.
  • Training will be very different. Training will be more focused on troubleshooting automated systems and quality control processes as opposed to learning about the individual micro-organisms.
  • There will be a lot less microbiologists about. Microbiology scientists and technical staff, as well as Clinical Microbiologists will all be reduced in number due to both the automation and also the cost.

I look forward to checking back on this post in 33 years time to see how accurate these predictions turned out to be…..!


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