Industrial microbiology or microbial biotechnology encompasses the use of microorganisms in the manufacture of food or industrial products. The use of microorganisms for the production of food, either human or animal, is often considered a branch of food microbiology. The microorganisms used in industrial processes may be natural isolates, laboratory selected mutants or genetically engineered organisms.
Industrial Microbiology is perhaps best known for its development of antibiotics and pharmaceutical agents. Penicillin, streptomycin, and a host of other antimicrobial agents originated from industrial microbiology in the 1950's and 1960's.
Yogurt, cheese, chocolate, and silage (animal food) are all produced by industrial microbiology processes. 'Good' bacteria such as probiotics are becoming increasingly important in the food industry. Lactic Acid Bacteria and Bifidobacteria are amongst the most important groups of microorganisms used in the food industry. These bacteria are thought to have health-promoting abilities and many are used as probiotics for the prevention, alleviation and treatment of intestinal disorders in humans and animals.
A huge variety of biopolymers, such as polysaccharides, polyesters, and polyamides, are produced by microorganisms. These products range from viscous solutions to plastics. The genetic manipulation of microorganisms has permitted the biotechnological production of biopolymers with tailored material properties suitable for high-value medical application such as tissue engineering and drug delivery. Industrial microbiology can be used for the biosynthesis of xanthan, alginate, cellulose, cyanophycin, poly(gamma-glutamic acid), levan, hyaluronic acid, organic acids, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, and polyhydroxyalkanoates.
Microbial biodegradation of pollutants can be used to clean up contaminated environments. These bioremediation and biotransformation methods harness naturally occurring microbes to degrade, transform or accumulate a huge range of compounds including hydrocarbons (e.g. oil), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), pharmaceutical substances, radionuclides and metals. Microbial biofilms are particularly important in bioremediation.
Microorganisms are used to treat the vast quantities of wastes generated by modern societies. Biotreatment, the processing of wastes using living organisms, is an environmentally friendly, relatively simple and cost-effective alternative to physico-chemical clean-up options. Confined environments, such as bioreactors can be employed in biotreatment processes.
Biological wastewater treatment is undoubtedly one of the most important biotechnological processes, which have been used for over a century to treat municipal and industrial wastewaters. Culture-independent molecular techniques have been used to study the diversity and physiology of ecologically important microorganisms in wastewater treatment processes. A number of new exciting insights into the structure, function, and dynamics of complex microbial communities in wastewater treatment processes have been gained, which have significantly expanded our understanding of process design, operation and control. Microbes play a vital role in the cycling of nitrogen in wastewater treatment processes (including anaerobic ammonia oxidation processes) and methane fermentation processes.
Health-care and medicine
Microorganisms are used to produce human or animal biologicals such as insulin, growth hormone, and antibodies. Diagnostic assays that use monoclonal antibody, DNA probe technology or real-time PCR are used as rapid tests for pathogenic organisms in the clinical laborarory.
Microorganisms may also help in the treatment of diseases such as cancer. Research shows that clostridia can selectively target cancer cells. Various strains of non-pathogenic clostridia have been shown to infiltrate and replicate within solid tumours. Clostridia therefore have the potential to deliver therapeutic proteins to tumours. Lactobacillus spp. and other lactic acid bacteria possess numerous potential therapeutic properties including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer activities.
Vaccines are used to combat infectious disease, however the last decade has witnessed a revolution in the approach to vaccine design and development. Sophisticated technologies such as genomics, proteomics, functional genomics, and synthetic chemistry can be used for the rational identification of antigens, the synthesis of complex glycans, and the generation of engineered carrier proteins.
Members of the Streptomyces genus are among the most prolific microorganisms producing secondary metabolites with wide uses in medicine and in agriculture. These organisms have a complex secondary metabolism producing antibiotic compounds and other metabolites with medicinal properties. Genomic studies, genomic mining and biotechnological approaches are being employed in the search for new antibiotics and other drugs in Streptomyces.
Examination of microbes living in unusual environments (e.g. high temperatures, salt, low pH or temperature, high radiation) lead to discovery of microbes with new abilities that can be harnessed for industrial purposes.
Corynebacteria are a diverse group Gram-positive bacteria found in a range of different ecological niches such as soil, vegetables, sewage, skin, and cheese smear. Corynebacterium glutamicum is of immense industrial importance and is one of the biotechnologically most important bacterial species with an annual production of more than two million tons of amino acids, mainly L-glutamate and L-lysine. The genome sequence of C. glutamicum has been published.
The genus Xanthomonas consists of 20 plant-associated species, many of which cause important diseases of crops and other plants. Individual species comprise multiple pathovars, characterized by distinctive host specificity or mode of infection. Bacteria of the genus Xanthomonas are able to produce the acidic exopolysaccharide xanthan gum. Because of its physical properties, it is widely used as a viscosifer, thickener, emulsifier or stabilizer in both food and non-food industries.
Species within the genus Aspergillus have a large chemical repertoire. Commodity products produced in Aspergillus cell 'factories' include citric, gluconic, itaconic, and kojic acid. The use of Aspergillus niger in citric acid production dates back to 1917. Citric acid is one of the most widely used food ingredients. It also has found use in the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries as an acidulant and for aiding in the dissolution of active ingredients. Other technical applications of citric acid are as a hardener in adhesive and for retarding the setting of concrete. Citric acid is a true 'bulk chemical' with an estimated production approximating more than 1.6 billion kg each year A. niger also has found use in the industrial production of gluconic acid, which is used as an additive in certain metal cleaning applications, as well as for the therapy for calcium and iron deficiencies. Aspergillus terreus is used for itaconic acid production, a synthetic polymer. A. oryzae is fermented for kojic acid production which is used for skin whitening and as a precursor for synthesis of flavour enhancers.
Viruses that are pathogenic to insect pests can be exploited as biological control agents. Some viruses such as baculoviruses have been exploited for use as gene expression and delivery vectors in both insect and mammalian cells.
- Sergei Alexandrovich Korolev
- Food microbiology
- Environmental microbiology
- Iron in microbiology
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