Future applications

The field of microbiology is on the cutting edge of science, and looking to the future to see how microbes and their products may help us is a part of this.

Microorganisms have a wide range of current industial uses and enjoy an ever-expanding potential for new and novel applications. The discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming is a famous example of microbes' use as a source of potential medicines. Microbes are also a vital component of the food industry, namely for the production of fermented foods including bread, cheese and wine. Microorganisms will continue to inspire the discovery of new high value products such as medicines and cosmetics, particularly as new technologies allow scientists to investigate microbes in extreme environments.

Microbes also have an important future within industrial processes, such as the production of energy and fuel. Synthetic biology has the potential to revolutionise how microorganisms are used on the industrial scale. Tailor-made microbes of the future may produce bulk fuels, chemicals and bioplastics, and could even be engineered to create individualised scents and clothing fibres such as silk.

In addition to producing new materials, microorganisms have a future in the removal and recycling of waste products. Bioremediation is the controlled process of using microbes to clear away pollution (e.g. hazardous chemicals and oil) from the environment. Microbes that chew through plastic, oil and radioactive waste may become vital additions to the future toolkit of environmental clean up teams and hazard-response personel.