There’s a misconception that every microorganism is dangerous and the only good microbe is a dead bacteria. Kind of like the Sarah Palin view of microbiology. Only 10-15% of all microbes are infectious or have been shown to be infectious. That’s rather sobering and so is the fact that life on earth could not exist without microorganisms. They were the first accepted inhabitants of the world. The vast majority of organisms are in fact, useful. In 2008, water bears (tardigrades) were the first animals demonstrated to be able to survive the vacuum of space. They are virtually indestructible and can survive being blasted with radiation, intense pressures and years of desiccation. Specimens were launched into space by Swedish scientists and they returned unharmed after eight days.
The cycles of nature – sulfur, carbon, nitrogen/phosphorus. We’ll talk more about this in the future.
Biological insect control: Sporoforma can be sprayed on crops which then insects attach to it and die. This is much more favorable that spraying DDT.
Bioremediation: How did they clean the gulf oil spill? They sprayed it with dispersants and microorganisms.
Toxic waste degradation: There are bacteria that live in radioactive material! Scientists could find any bacteria to get rid of anything that’s in the environment.
Pharmaceuticals / biotechnology
Garbage disposal / Sewage treatment: The fungi, Pestalotiopsis microspora, is able to survive on a steady diet of polyurethane alone and, which is even more surprising can do this in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. Perfect for conditions at the bottom of a landfill.
Food: Fermentation, yogurt, sourdough bread, kim-chi, etc.
Cosmetics: Nail polish uses acetone and it comes from microbial activity (fermentation).
Microbial spoilage: food, furniture, homes and your shower curtain.
Biofilms are ubiquitous: Nearly every species of microorganism, not only bacteria and archaea, have mechanisms by which they can adhere to surfaces and to each other. Biofilms will form on virtually every non-shedding surface in a non-sterile aqueous (or very humid) environment. Plaque is a biofilm on the surfaces of your teeth. This accumulation of microorganisms subject the teeth and gums to high concentrations of bacterial metabolites which results in dental disease. They can grow in showers very easily since they provide a moist and warm environment for the biofilm to thrive.
UTI’s: A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection (85% of the time due to E. coli) that affects part of the urinary tract that makes urination painful and frequent. It occurs more commonly in women than men, with half of women having at least one infection at some point in their lives. (Urinary tract infections)
Industrial damage in the billions: Industrial water filtration systems are plagued by bacteria overgrowth, biocorrosion on ships hulls, etc
The really ugly: The worlds deadliest microbial diseases
MRSA: Staphylococcus aureus is a common type of bacteria (germ) that is often found in the nose, but can also grow in wounds and other sites of the body, where the infection may cause great harm. Methicillin is an antibiotic or medication that is used to treat these infections. In the early days of antibiotic therapy, Penicillin was used to treat staph infections, but gradually the organism became resistant to most antibiotics except for methicillin. Over time, the bacteria have become resistant to methicillin as well, so this antibiotic is no longer able to kill the germ. If a person has an infection with this germ that cannot be treated with methicillin, the person is said to have Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and must be treated with other antibiotics. They’ve now found MRSA into cattle. We’re picking up MR organisms from the animals we eat because they too are fed with antibiotics. MRSA used to only be in the hospitals, but now it’s both in the hospital and community.
VRE: Enterococci are bacteria that are normally found in the bowel and vagina of humans. When they get outside these areas, these bacteria can cause infections of the urinary tract, wounds, or bloodstream. Vancomycin is an antibiotic that usually works to treat these infections. Infections caused by Enterococci that are resistant to Vancomycin are called Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci, or VRE, and are very difficult to treat.
C. Difficile: Clostridium difficile is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. This is a huge problem for older adults in assisted living centers and typically occurs after the use of antibiotic medications.
MDRTB: Multiple Drug Resistant Tuberculosis
Malaria: 3-6 million people a year die. Not many in the western world but many of them are children in the Caribbean and Africa.
HIV: ’nuff said.
Hepatitis C: The latest denizen on the block is Hepatitis C. It’s estimated that 30-40% of Americans have Hepatitis C because of it’s extremely long latency period. In the past several months, more people have died from Hepatitis C than died from HIV. It’s the next common plague. Yes, microbial infections are a big part of our world.
The STD Pandemic (Global Epidemic): Chlamydia, Neisseria Gonnorhea, Herpes, and other nasties.
And of course, emerging infectious diseases which we talked about earlier.