Faculty of Science

Interesting facts in Microbiology

1. What are some of the different types of micro-organisms?

  • Fungi - seen as moulds on bread and fruit, or used as yeast in the baking and brewing industries
  • Algae - which often impart a green coloration to ponds, pools and rivers
  • Protozoa - such as the malaria parasite
  • Bacteria - some of which cause diseases, while others benefit mankind when present in the soil or used industrially
  • Viruses - visible only under an electron microscope, are capable of infecting cells of higher life forms including humans, plants and bacteria.

2. Why are insulin dependent diabetics hooked on E. coli?

Previously insulin was extracted from the pancreas of animals including pigs. Today, the gene for insulin production has been incorporated into the Escherichia coli bacterium. E. coli replicates every 20 minutes. Production of insulin is rapid, requires less space, no pigs, and results in fewer complications for the patients, such as those allergic to porcine products.

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What good is mouldy bread?

Most of us have benefited from that mould called Penicillium. When a Penicillium spore accidentally landed on Alexander Fleming's laboratory bench in 1928, it led to his discovery of the first antibiotic - penicillin. Most of our present antibiotics are produced by micro-organisms - one of the greatest triumphs of medical science!

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4. Where did marscapone cheese begin?

Nature was way ahead of the cheese makers of today.

The nomadic tribes of the Mediterranean used the stomachs of calves as containers in which to carry their milk as they moved from place to place. The milk was curdled by rennin produced in a calf's stomach, and together with the gentle rocking, thickened to become the first soft cheeses.

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5. Why is anthrax such a lethal tool for terrorists?

The organism Bacillus anthracis, which causes the disease anthrax, is very easy to grow and has its own protective mechanism. When dried, the organism produces fine, powdery spores that can survive for long periods. When these spores are distributed, they re-germinate in moist, nutritious environments - for example, the human lung - where they produce toxins that can kill the host relatively quickly.

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6. Is the Swan River dying?

Fertilisers used in farm or home garden environments, and those in the form of sewage spills, provide nutrients to algae that respond by blooming and then dying. The resulting dead material falls to the bottom of lakes and watercourses, and bacteria decompose this material using the oxygen in the water. Without oxygen, fish and other life suffocate and die.

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