Discovery and Utilization of New Microorganisms

Humans have been using microorganism-produced resources throughout our history: food and drinks (e.g., wine and yoghurt), drugs, various chemicals, biomaterials, biofuels, etc. Most of these applications are based on just a handful of species. For example, from 2004 to 2013, 24% of the biopharmaceuticals approved by the FDA and the European Medicines Agency were derived from E. coli.

Selecting a suitable microbial species is one of the most important aspects in the design of an industrial bioprocess. The commonly used organisms have been studied extensively in academia and industry and were deemed the economical choice when taking into account their characteristics and disadvantages. However, considering the vast number of bacterial species existing on earth, it is entirely possible that the commonly utilized species are not the optimal choice, particularly for novel tasks such as bioremediation, carbon sequestration, biofuel production etc.

When looking beyond the short list of well-studied microorganisms, we can find hundreds of species already known to science but not studied enough due to lack of interest, funding or manpower. Looking even beyond those, it is currently estimated that 99% of bacterial species on earth have not been discovered yet.

Development of a method to identify and characterize new bacterial species in a methodical, low-cost way can lead to the discovery of microorganisms that might be better suited for current and new industrial applications. This in turn, can lead to the gradual phase out of environmentally damaging technologies in favor of biological production. In addition, discovery of species that might be naturally better at carbon sequestration, plastic degradation, and other environmental applications can help bolster our efforts to combat climate change.

Microorganisms are important indeed.

This sounds fascinating! But I must admit I know very little about this topic, so I’m going to call in some help. @devinny and @Gael, you may be able to add to this. Please share your thoughts!

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Thank you!