Scope of Biotechnology and Industrial Microbiology

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. NATURE OF BIOTECHNOLOGY AND. INDUSTRIAL MICROBIOLOGY. One of the broadest . definition of Biotechnology. is the one given at the United Nations Conference on Biological Diversity in 1992 as . “any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof.... ID: 528321 Download Presentation

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Scope of Biotechnology and Industrial Microbiology

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Scope of Biotechnology and Industrial Microbiology



One of the broadest

definition of Biotechnology

is the one given at the United Nations Conference on Biological Diversity in 1992 as

“any technological application that uses biological systems, living organisms, or derivatives thereof, to make or modify products or processes for specific use.”

Some of these include the use of microorganisms to make the antibiotic, penicillin or the dairy product, yoghurt; the use of microorganisms to produce amino acids or enzymes are also examples of biotechnology.


Industrial microbiology

may be defined as the study of the large-scale and profit-motivated production of microorganisms or their products for direct use, or as inputs in the manufacture of other goods.

Thus yeasts may be produced for direct consumption as food for humans or as animal feed, or for use in bread-making; their product, ethanol, may also be consumed in the form of alcoholic beverages, or used in the manufacture of perfumes, pharmaceuticals, etc.

Industrial microbiology is clearly a branch of biotechnology and includes the traditional and nucleic acid aspects.



The discipline of microbiology is often divided into sub-disciplines such as medical microbiology, environmental microbiology, food microbiology and industrial microbiology.

The characteristics of industrial microbiology can be highlighted by comparing its features with those of another sub-division of microbiology, medical microbiology.


Industrial vs Medical Microbiology

They differ in at least three different ways:


is the immediate motivation:

In industrial microbiology

the immediate motivation is profit and the generation of wealth.

In medical microbiology

, the immediate concern is to offer expert opinion to the doctor about, for example the spectrum of antibiotic susceptibility of the microorganisms isolated from a diseased condition so as to restore the patient back to good health.

The generation of wealth is of course at the back of the mind of the medical microbiologist.


The second difference


That the microorganisms per se used in routine medical microbiology have little or no direct economic value, outside the contribution which they make to ensuring the return to good health of the patient who may then pay for the services.

In industrial microbiology the microorganisms involved or their products are very valuable.


The third difference

is the scale at which the microorganisms are handled.

In industrial microbiology, the scale is large and the organisms may be cultivated in fermentors as large as 50,000 liters or larger.

In routine medical microbiology the scale at which the pathogen is handled is limited to a loopful or a few milliliters.


If a pathogen which normally would have no economic value were to be handled on the large scale used in industrial microbiology, it would most probably be to prepare a vaccine against the pathogen.

Under that condition, the pathogen would then acquire an economic value and a profit-making potential; the operation would properly be termed industrial microbiology.


Multi-disciplinary or Team-work Nature ofIndustrial Microbiology

The microbiologist in an industrial establishment does not function by himself.

In a modern industrial microbiology organization these others may include chemical or production engineers, biochemists, economists, lawyers, marketing experts, and other high-level functionaries.

They all cooperate to achieve the purpose of the firm, which is not philanthropy, (at least not immediately) but the generation of profit or wealth.


Despite the necessity for team work emphasized above, the microbiologist or biotechnologist has a central and key role in his organization.

Some of his functions include:

a. the selection of the organism to be used in the processes;

b. the choice of the medium of growth of the organism;

c. the determination of the environmental conditions for the organism’s optimum productivity i.e., pH, temperature, aeration, etc.


d. during the actual production the microbiologist or biotechnologist must monitor the process for the absence of contaminants, and participate in quality control to ensure uniformity of quality in the products;

e. the proper custody of the organisms usually in a culture collection, so that their desirable properties are retained;

f. the improvement of the performance of the microorganisms by genetic manipulation or by medium reconstitution.


Obsolescence in Industrial Microbiology

As profit is the motivating factor in the pursuit of industrial microbiology, less efficient methods are discarded as better ones are discovered.

Indeed a microbiological method may be discarded entirely in favor of a cheaper chemical method.

This was the case with ethanol for example which up till about 1930 was produced by fermentation.


When cheaper chemical methods using petroleum as the substrate became available in about 1930, fermentation ethanol was virtually abandoned.

From the mid-1970s the price of petroleum has climbed steeply.

It has once again become profitable to produce ethanol by fermentation.

Several countries notably Brazil, India and the United States have officially announced the production of ethanol by fermentation for blending into gasoline as gasohol


Free Communication of Procedures inIndustrial Microbiology

Many procedures employed in industrial microbiology do not become public property for a long time because the companies which discover them either keep them secret, or else patent them.

The undisclosed methods are usually blandly described as ‘know-how’.

The reason for the secrecy is obvious and is designed to keep the owner of the secret one step ahead of his/her competitors.

For this reason, industrial microbiology textbooks often lag behind in describing methods employed in industry.



All over the world, governments set up patent or intellectual property laws, which have two aims.

First, they are intended to induce an inventor to disclose something of his/her invention.

Second, patents ensure that an invention is not exploited without some reward to the inventor for his/her innovation; anyone wishing to use a patented invention would have to pay the patentee for its use.



The word fermentation comes from the Latin verb


, which means to boil.

It originated from the fact that early at the start of wine fermentation gas bubbles are released continuously to the surface giving the impression of boiling.

It has three different meanings which might be confusing.


The first meaning

relates to microbial physiology.

In strict physiological terms, fermentation is defined in microbiology as the type of metabolism of a carbon source in which energy is generated by substrate level phosphorylation and in which organic molecules function as the final electron acceptor (or as acceptors of the reducing equivalents) generated during the break-down of carbon-containing compounds or catabolism.

As is well-known, when the final acceptor is an inorganic compound the process is called respiration.

Respiration is referred to as aerobic if the final acceptor is oxygen and anaerobic when it is some other inorganic compound outside oxygen e.g sulphate or nitrate.


The second

usage of the word is in industrial microbiology, where the term ‘fermentation’ is any process in which micro-organisms are grown on a large scale, even if the final electron acceptor is not an organic compound (i.e. even if the growth is carried out under aerobic conditions).

Thus, the production of penicillin, and the growth of yeast cells which are both highly aerobic, and the production of ethanol or alcoholic beverages which are fermentations in the physiological sense, are all referred to as fermentations.


The third

usage concerns food.

A fermented food is one, the processing of which microorganisms play a major part.

Microorganisms determine the nature of the food through producing the flavor components as well deciding the general character of the food, but microorganisms form only a small portion of the finished product by weight.

Foods such as cheese, bread, and yoghurt are fermented foods.



The organization of a fermentation industrial establishment will vary from one firm to another and will depend on what is being produced.

Nevertheless the diagram in Fig. 1.1 represents in general terms the set-up in a fermentation industry.


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