Sunday, April 25, 2010

Trends in environmental microbiology with references from paper industry microbiology

The history of microbiology contains several eras with different targets. I will refer them in this way (based on my over 30 years experience as microbiologist and teacher of microbiology and biochemistry):

In the beginning, cultivation and observation of microorganisms was the main target. Doctors like Pasteur and Koch were very innovative and developed intelligent culture medias and vessels to perform very delicate experiments. The everlasting fight against pathogenic microbes was the primary target but Louis Pasteur started to help eg. wine producers to solve their quality problems, caused by microbes.

The combination of microbiology and biochemistry on the second era was very satisfying by solving questions concerning the huge amount of anabolic and catabolic processes included in microbial growth. More and more were also learned in the area of microbial ecology. Questions like "who? what? when? where? how? why?" were partially solved (ref. MADSEN,E.L. 2008. Environmental Microbiology. From Genomes to biochemistry. Blackwell Publishing).

"Third era" can be described by the novel methods to identify bacteria. Biochemical test kits (API etc.) were replaced by Fatty Acide Methylated Ester method (FAME) by Hewlett-Packard on 80's. After it, molecular biology methods, based on ribosomal RNA and DNA, helped to construct the development lines of microorganisms.

Today is the time of new era. We know the "family trees" of bacteria but we should now continue with environmental microbiology and microbial ecology to solve questions like "How, why, by whom and in which conditions will the raw materials of paper industry be biodeteriorated?", "How can we prevent these processes by setting the process conditions unsuitable for those biochemical processes?", "Can we prevent the growth of biofilms and slimes in an ecological way?", "How to prevent selectively the growth of toxin producers like Bacillus cereus in paper and board processes?", how to fight against Legionella in paper industry?".

Names are not the most important thing. Most important is, how the bacteria act in different ecological niches of a paper machine. This work has to be done by using simulations of paper processes which is possible by wet end simulators of research units (as an example: VTT in Jyväskylä, Finland) and laboratory/field instruments (like biofilm detectors in the processes or PMEU incubators by Samplion Ltd.).

The role of PMEU is getting more and more important because this method helps to detect microbial growth of different types (biofilms included) in a very short period of time as well as to test simultaneously the effects of alternative biocides in small-scale tests whose growth parameters match with the growth conditions in the real processes.

We are - and we shall - turn back to the era of Pasteur & Koch: the names are already known, and we shall now investigate, what the contaminating microbes are doing in the industrial processes and how to prevent losses of raw material, machine stops and poor quality of the products by simulating growth processes in small-scale tests, performed in the laboratory or in the field, by the machies themselves.

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