Scope of Biotechnology and Industrial Microbiology


Dec 6, 2012 (4 years and 6 months ago)


Scope of
Biotechnology and
Industrial Microbiology



One of the broadest
definition of

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
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

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

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

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
making potential; the operation
would properly be termed industrial

disciplinary or Team
work Nature of

Industrial 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

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

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

b. the choice of the medium of growth of the

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

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

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

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

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 in

Industrial 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

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
down of carbon
containing compounds or

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

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

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.