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History And Concerns Related to Applied Microbiology

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Applied microbiology is a branch of microbiology in which micro-organisms are studied and utilised, perhaps even exploited, for the benefit of humans and animals. According to (Nature. com, 2018), applied microbiology is “a scientific discipline that deals with the application of microorganisms and the knowledge about them. Applications include biotechnology, agriculture, medicine, food microbiology and bioremediation. ”Applied microbiology plays a large role in the treatment and diagnosis of disease. Throughout history, there have been many theories regarding the cause of illness. For example, in the middle ages when the bubonic plague, wrongly said to be a punishment from God or due to Jews and beggars poisoning water and food, swept throughout Europe killing “one third of the total population of Europe”. As technology and the development of scientific understanding improved, microbiologists began to slowly uncover the true cause of disease and infections. In the nineteenth century, smallpox, cholera and tuberculosis became the most common and deadly diseases in the UK. As ‘King Cholera’ rapidly spread within the cramped and unsanitary conditions of London slums causing “severe diarrhea and dehydration” as stated by (Mayo Clinic, 2017)[footnoteRef:3], doctors at the time desperately endeavoured to successfully apply their limited knowledge of microbiology and disease in order to treat the growing epidemic by exposing patients to extreme temperatures, such as cold water and ice baths, hot water baths and compresses and beds warmed with hot air powered by electricity. These remedies were unfortunately unsuccessful and deaths continued to rise at unprecedented rates. This was the case until Louis Pasteur, a French chemist, also known nowadays as “the father of microbiology”, published Germ Theory. His work not only explained, but proved that these “microscopic organisms”, are the cause of diseases such as cholera, anthrax and rabies, and can be killed with the treatment of heat and antiseptic compounds e. g. “carbolic acid”.

From this, he discovered the way in which fowl cholera, rabies and anthrax spread and as a result of his observations, he hypothesised that patients could be protected from these ailments if they were injected with a deceased or weakened form of the disease-causing-micro-organism, otherwise known as an inoculation. On July 6, 1885, the first vaccine for rabies was administered to a nine-year-old boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog. More recent advances in applied microbiology include the investigation in 2013 conducted by which investigated the production of a chemical called rhizathalenes in corn plants by class I terpene synthase (TPS). It was found that corn plants that produced a higher concentration of rhizathalenes are less “susceptible to insect herbivory and the removal of peripheral cell layers”, whereas corn plants which are deficient in rhizathalene are more vulnerable to insect herbivory. This is important in the advancement of applied microbiology as the observations of this investigation have been integrated into agricultural biotechnology. According to (Ars. usda. gov, 2017) microbiologists have used this information in “plant breeding…to enhance [the] resistance of corn to microbial pathogens and drought”. This will be beneficial on a global scale as this means that regions that are susceptible to drought conditions, such as Bangladesh etc, are now able to successfully cultivate crops that have a greater probability of not only surviving but thriving in waterlogged soils. Additionally, the plants with resistance to microbial pathogens would survive if a crop becomes infected with a deadly pathogen. This would mean less global food wastage and possibly with time, decreased malnutrition in LICs. [7: (Vaughan et al. , 2013)] [8: (Ars. usda. gov, 2017)

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With diagnosing and treating disease, there then comes consequences. One of the world’s biggest concern in applied microbiology is antibiotic-resistant strains of pathogenic bacteria. An example of this is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), otherwise known as the ‘hospital superbug’. MRSA came about as a result of the overuse of the antibiotic methicillin. Methicillin was introduced as a new antibiotic to treat Staph. aureus when a “virulent strain of Staph. aureus became resistant to penicillin, streptomycin, tetracycline…” MRSA is spread by contact with other infected people, sharing materials with someone who has MRSA on their skin and touching surfaces that have MRSA on them (nhs. uk, 2017). According to (nhs. uk, 2017) MRSA is more common in patients in hospitals as they usually have an easy access point in which bacteria are able to enter the body. For example, through an open wound, intravenous drip or through a catheter etc. MRSA infections are treated by antibiotic injections.

The antibiotics used include trimethoprim, Bactrim and Cleocin. Future hopes and advances in applied microbiology include the use of bacterial strains called acetogens in anaerobic bacterial gas fermentation like those being investigated by (Bengelsdorf et al. , 2018). They investigated 61 bacterial strains and postulated that it might be possible for metabolically engineered acetogens to be used to produce a greater yield of syngas as they may be able to “expand the product portfolio to platform chemicals”. This, on a larger scale, would mean that there is an overall positive effect on the rate of climate change as it means a lower rate of use of fossil fuels through petrol and diesel energies. The need for more renewable energies due to rapidly depleting stock resources is one of the greatest problems facing our generation, and investigations such as this, and further developments in applied microbiology could be the catalyst to find the solutions.


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