Minuscule creatures that carry a heavy load

Industrial Microbiology
November 29, 2002

Humans and microbes are intimately entwined. Ancient symbiotic events between bacteria and eukaryotic cells were crucial for the evolution of life and the human form. No less profound has been our reliance on the microbial world for the production and preservation of certain foods, medicines, hallucinogens and recreational beverages.

What is remarkable is that exploitation of the microbial world began many thousands of years before we knew of its existence - the driving force being the need to preserve food.

We tend to think that the use of one set of microbes to deter the activities of a less desirable group (biocontrol) is a recent invention, but clearly it is not.

Today, a vast range of products is obtained from microbes and the extent of our dependency is breathtaking. We exploit microbes not just in the production and preservation of food but also depend on them in agriculture (silage) for the production of certain fuels and chemical feedstocks (such as butanol), in medicine (antibiotics, human growth hormones), in biotechnology (enzymes for the manipulation of DNA), in mining (extraction of scarce heavy metals) and increasingly we are learning to use microbes to clean polluted sites (bio-remediation). To all these areas, Industrial Microbiology provides a superb introduction.

This readable undergraduate text begins with a useful introduction to key features of microbial physiology and genetics so that the reader is equipped with enough background to appreciate the diversity of microbes and their metabolic capabilities. It then focuses on bio-processing, where the basics of fermentation technology are clearly presented, and finishes with a comprehensive account of industrial processes and products.

In today's world, it is important that students understand the fundamentals, but it is also important that the application of these concepts be encouraged. Moreover, a vision of how concepts can be applied often fuels thirst for basic knowledge. In this respect, Industrial Microbiology is a valuable text.

Paul B. Rainey is lecturer in microbial genetics, University of Oxford.

Industrial Microbiology: An Introduction

Author - Michael J. Waites, Neil L. Morgan, John S. Rockey and Gary Higton
ISBN - 0 632 05307 0
Publisher - Blackwell
Price - £29.95
Pages - 288

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