The Bacteriology Unit was established in 1900 along with the establishment of the Institute for Medical Research. During the early years of establishment, bacteriological work was mainly on addressing the microbiogical quality of the natural waters of the country and routine diagnostic bacteriology.
Over the years, the Unit gradually evolved into a research unit. During the progress, some achievements have been made. To name a few are the establishment of Bacillus mallei as the causative agent of melioidosis (which was later known as Burkholderia psudomallei ) by Whitmore, Fletcher and Stanton, the pathologists of the Institute (1917); isolation of the antibiotic-producing mould, Streptomyces, from Malaysian soils (1951); and the discovery of actinonim, an antibiotic (1961). Another major achievement made by the Unit was the development of indirect immunoperoxidase test for the laboratory diagnosis of scrub typhus (1985).
The Unit is now focused on the research of infectious diseases and the causative organisms. Molecular biology techniques which include peptide synthesis and recombinant proteins, DNA probes and DNA hybridization and amplification technique such as polymerase chain reaction and pulsed field gel electrophoresis, are coming to fore as research tools and are used to supplement the traditional tools such as culture, serotyping and phage typing which have had their own limitations.
The Unit is recognized by WHO as the National Salmonella Reference Center. The Unit is also the Centre for Culture Colllection since 1970 and it is the focal point for National Surveillance on Antibiotic Resistance.