Bacteria get a pretty bad rap. Most people associate them with disease, or making food spoil. But in reality, bacteria serve a vital function in nature. And while it is true that some bacteria like Bacillus anthracis causes anthrax, it is also true that others such as a bacteria called Rhizobia convert free nitrogen into a form that the plants can use in order to grow.
As our latest article in Forbes, Bacteria Are Revolutionizing Biotech–Here’s Why We Need To Talk About It, points out,
bacteria have been genetically modified and used as living factories to produce a number of vaccines and pharmaceuticals, including insulin, the antiviral substance interferon, and blood‐clotting factors. They are widely used to produce vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, and growth supplements, as well as food that requires fermentation processes – yogurts and cheese, bread and beer.
In plant biology, genetic engineering has allowed scientists to fight plant disease.
For example, when plant scientists discovered that crown gall disease, which affects more than 140 plant species, is caused by a soil bacterium that can invade plant cells and insert genes causing tumors, they removed the tumor-inducing genes and replaced them with others to provide the plant with new characteristics.
Plant biotechnology is the vanguard of a new frontier, thanks to a (relatively) new technology called CRISPR, which allows scientists to more precisely edit genes and genomes. The technology could lead to new breakthroughs in food, agriculture, and medicine.
These amazing “living factories” then, far beyond their negative connotations, serve many useful purposes and indeed, are on the leading edge of scientific research, innovation, manufacturing, and problem-solving. All thanks to a tiny – but productive -little bacterium.