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Uses of Microorganisms
Microorganisms are useful in different fields such as medicine, agriculture and industry. Some of them are given below.
We obtain antibiotics and vaccines from microbes.
The word ‘anti’ means ‘against’. Antibiotic is a substance produced by living organisms which is toxic for other organisms.
Sir Alexander Fleming was the first person to discover the antibiotic penicillin in the year 1928. The antibiotic penicillin was obtained from the fungi Penicillium chrysogenum. It is used to treat diseases such as tetanus and diphtheria. The antibiotic, streptomycin is obtained from Streptomyces bacteria to cure various bacterial infections. Eg. Plague.
Vaccines are prepared from dead or weakened microbes. Edward Jenner was the first person to discover small pox vaccine. He coined the term vaccination. When the vaccine is injected to the body of a pati ent, the body produces antibodies to fight against the germs. These antibodies remain inside the body and protect from future invasion of the germs. Therefore, vaccination is otherwise called as immunization.
Eg: MMR vaccine is given for preventing Measles, Mumps and Rubella. BCG (Bacille Calmette Guerin) vaccine is given for preventing Tuberculosis.
Microorganisms are called as decomposers because they act upon degradable wastes. During the process, nitrates and other inorganic nutrients are released into the soil, making the soil fertile. This compost is called as natural fertilizer.
Rhizobium bacteria living in the root nodules of leguminous plants enrich the soil by fixing the atmospheric nitrogen as nitrates which are essential for the growth of plants. Some free living bacteria in soil, like Cyanobacteria Nostoc can also fix nitrogen biologically.
Microbes are used to protect the crops from pests. Some of them are given below.
* Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt cotton) helps to control insects.
* Trichoderma (Fungi) helps to protect roots and controls plant pathogens.
* Baculoviruses (Virus) attack insects and other arthropods.
Aerobic microbes are allowed to grow in the primary effluent during the secondary stage of waste water treatment. These microbes consume the major part of the organic matter in the effluent. Eg. Nitrobacter sps. In the anaerobic treatment of sewage Methanobacterium is used.
Production of biogas
Human and animal faecal matter and plant wastes are broken down by anaerobic bacteria to produce methane (biogas) along with carbon dioxide and hydrogen. These bacteria are called as methanogens.
Production of alcohol and wine
Alcoholic drinks are prepared by fermentation process using yeast. Sugars present in grapes are fermented by using yeast. Beer is produced by the fermentation of sugars in rice and barley.
Microbes in retting and tanning
Flax plants are tied in bundles and kept in water. Bacteria loosen the supporting fibres of the stem by acting on the stem tissues. This process is known as retting. Linen thread is made from these fibres. Eg. Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
In tanning industry bacteria act upon the skin of animals and makes it soft and therefore it becomes pliable.
In daily life
Yeast is used in bakeries to make bread and cakes. They are added to the dough to produce carbon dioxide which makes the dough rise. Bread and cakes are soft due to carbon dioxide gas. Chlorella (green algae) which is rich in proteins and vitamins is added to the dough to enrich the bread with nutrients.
Preparation of curd and cottage cheese
Lactose in the milk gets turned into Lactic acid by the action of Lactobacillus (bacteria) . Therefore, milk becomes thick (curd) . It gives the sour taste. When curd is processed cottage cheese (panneer) is obtained.
In Human Intestine
* Lactobacillus acidophilus that lives in the human intestine helps in digestion of food and fights against harmful disease causing organisms.
* E.coli bacteria living in human intestine help in synthesizing vitamin K and vitamin B complex.
Microbes in Food Process
Microorganisms commonly used for food processing are yeast, bacteria, and moulds. Fermentation process which is carried out by microorganisms results in the production of organic acids, alcohol and esters. They help to preserve food and generate distinctive new food products.
a. Food preservation
Two techniques are followed in food preservation. They are:
* Traditional techniques
* Modern techniques
1. Traditional techniques
Fermentation, pickling, boiling and sugaring are the traditional techniques followed in food preservation.
Fermentation is the microbial conversion of starch and sugars into alcohol. It makes foods more nutritious and palatable.
Pickling is a method of preserving food in an edible antimicrobial liquid. It is of two types: chemical pickling and fermentation pickling.
In chemical pickling, food is placed in an edible liquid that kills bacteria and other microorganisms. Eg. Vinegar, alcohol, vegetable oil (pickling agents). In fermentation pickling, bacteria in the liquid produce organic acid as preservation agent that produces lactic acid due to the presence of Lactobacillus.
Boiling liquid food items kill all the microbes. Eg. Milk and Water.
Sugar is used to preserve fruits in an antimicrobial syrup with fruits such as apples, pears, peaches, plums or in a crystallized form, so that the product is stored in dry condition.
2. Modern techniques
It is a process for preservation of liquid food. This method was invented by Louis Pasteur in 1862. Milk is preserved by this method. It is heated up to 70 ºC to kill the bacteria and it is cooled to 10 ºC to prevent the growth of remaining bacteria. Then milk is stored in sterilized bottles in cold places.
b. Food production
Probiotics are live food supplements used in yoghurt and other fermented milk products. Eg. Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum. These bacteria improve the microbial spectrum in the gut and thus contribute to the following effects.
* Decrease the risk of colon cancer
* Decrease cholesterol absorption
* Prevent diarrheal diseases by increasing immunity
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