Scope of Industrial Microbiology

The use of microbes by man to produce beneficial products is an ancient practice that has continued till date. Industrial microbiology is the branch of microbiology that uses microbes to produce industrial products in large quantities. Here, the potentials of microorganisms are harnessed for industrial productions and for other related services. Some microorganisms are known to produce various useful end-products such as acids, alcohols, hormones, enzymes and antimicrobial agents (e.g., antibiotics) as part of their metabolic activities. These potentials of microorganisms have been greatly exploited by man, and today there are many fermentation industry across the globe that produce beer, bread, wine and other beverages through the application of certain microorganisms that actively facilitate the process of fermentation. Industrial microbiologists work in a variety of companies including biochemical industries, biotechnology companies, pharmaceutical companies and food production industries where they exploit the metabolic products of microorganisms (especially their secondary metabolites) to produce a wide variety of useful products. Large fermentors or bioreactors are used in beer and wine production plants for the production of quality wine and beer as well as other beverages that are mediated by microbial action (Figure 1). Most modern brewing processes are computer controlled from the control room with measurements of temperature, gravity, pH and flow rates of materials to the production unit; and this ensures that optimum conditions are maintained at every stage of production. Industrial microbiologists play critical role in selecting the appropriate microbial strain and growth medium required for enhanced product yield in the industry. They also ensure that the appropriate strains of microbes are always available through strain improvement for industrial productions.

Industrial microbiologists work on the exploitation of microorganisms in the manufacturing of food and other useful industrial products including pharmaceutical products and drugs, chemicals and fuel/energy (e.g., biofuels or bioethanol). Industrial microbiology is the application of scientific and engineering principles to the processing of materials by microorganisms including bacteria and fungi to create products that are of economic importance to man. Industrial microbiologists among other things ensure the quality control and assurance of products generated from microbial origins. Some groups of microorganisms are of tremendous importance because they are exploited in the production of products such as organic chemicals (e.g., citric acid, acetone, methanol, butanol and ethanol), enzymes, amino acids, antibiotics and detergents. Industrial microbiologists are needed by governments, industries, the academia, food industries, medical industry, pharmaceutical industry, the agricultural sector and other agencies where they proffer regulatory and other supervisory roles as it relates to the harnessing of microbial cells for the production of beneficial products. For example, in the agricultural sector, some microorganisms such as Bacillus thuringiensis have insecticidal activities; and this property can be exploited by industrial microbiologists to produce pesticides or insecticides that will be used to prevent pest infestation of crops in the farmland. Microorganisms synthesize several amino acids and organic acids; and the skills of an industrial microbiologist can be used to exploit this important aspect of such microorganisms.

The fermentor which can also be called bioreactors is the vessel within which the fermentation reaction during a Fed batch or batch fermentation process is conducted; and such vessels ensure an even mixture of the microbes or inoculums and other reactants in it in such a way that fermentation proceeds unperturbed. In a more general term, fermentors are usually closed systems or vessels that have adequate provision for nutrient supply, water supply, aeration, agitation, temperature and pH control required to drive the process of fermentation by microorganisms, especially in the production of a particular product of economic interest. Fermentors or bioreactors also have channels for the draining or removal of the waste biomass of cultured microorganisms generated during the process of fermentation; and they also have outlets where products can be collected from. Bioreactors also have channels through which nutrients or substrates can be added as well as openings via which the products can be recovered and wastes retrieved. Industrial fermentors are large vessels that usually range from 10,000 liters to 100,000 liters and even larger depending on the purpose it is meant to serve; and industrial fermentors as shown here are fitted with special components such as impellers and spargers that ensure even mixture of the reaction mixture as well as adequate supply of oxygen for the fermentation process. Most bioreactors are used in the industry are computer-controlled and monitored in order to determine vital parameters of the fermentation process such as pH, buildup of metabolic products and wastes and temperature levels among other physical or environmental factors that may affect the fermentation process.

Figure 1: Schematic illustration of large-scale industrial fermentors.

REFERENCES

Talaro, Kathleen P (2005). Foundations in Microbiology. 5th edition. McGraw-Hill Companies Inc., New York, USA.

Willey J.M, Sherwood L.M and Woolverton C.J (2008). Harley and Klein’s Microbiology. 7th ed. McGraw-Hill Higher Education, USA.

Slonczewski J.L, Foster J.W and Gillen K.M (2011). Microbiology: An Evolving Science. Second edition. W.W. Norton and Company, Inc, New York, USA.

Salyers A.A and Whitt D.D (2001). Microbiology: diversity, disease, and the environment. Fitzgerald Science Press Inc. Maryland, USA.

Prescott L.M., Harley J.P and Klein D.A (2005). Microbiology. 6th ed. McGraw Hill Publishers, USA. Pp. 296-299.

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Das H.K (2010). Textbook of Biotechnology. Fourth edition. Wiley edition. Wiley India Pvt, Ltd, New Delhi, India.

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