What Are Microbes Used For?
- Microbes have a number of uses in food production, dating back thousands of years. One common example is the use of yeast in making bread rise. The production of vinegar also relies on microorganisms, and wine, beer, and spirits require microbial involvement for their production. The "Lactobacillus acidophilus" bacterium that makes yogurt is another common example.
- Long before humans began tinkering with microbes in laboratories, microbes have served humans well in their primary function as helpful bacterial agents. For example, microbes lining the gastrointestinal tract aid in digestion and communicate with white blood cells to bolster the body's natural immune system. In fact, humans would be unable to digest plant matter if not for microbial organisms living inside us, which produce an enzyme that is otherwise not naturally produced.
- Scientists and engineers have managed to harness the power of microbes for specific (and cutting-edge) biotechnological uses. Microbes are used in industrial production of substances such as lactic acid, butanol, and ethanol. They're also used to generate useful enzymes such as protease and invertase, which themselves have numerous medical and commercial applications. Recent advancements in genetic engineering have allowed laboratory scientists to use microorganisms to help make inorganic products like interferon, growth hormone and insulin. Some University of Massachusetts researchers have even experimented with using microbes in mud to generate electricity.
- The wastewater that humans produce ends up in sewage treatment facilities that rely on microbes to help break down the organic matter in the water so it can be processed and purified. The result of microbial action on the sewage is the production of natural methane gas. Microbes can also be used to help remove metals such as sulfur from rivers and lakes.