The immense diversity and metabolic versatility of microorganisms are beginning to be exploited in an ever-increasing number of industrial applications. The advantages of using microorganisms, as outlined below, are manifold, but unless bio-industrial processes are competitive with traditional methods their potential will not be realised.
By using new and exciting techniques to manipulate genes, natural diversity can be extended to increase yield, rate and specificity, thereby making reactions more efficient and economical.
The drive towards sustainable development has led to a green revolution in chemistry. Microbial transformations require milder conditions than chemically catalysed reactions and are more specific, resulting in cleaner, greener processes. Renewable raw materials, and even waste products, can be worked by microorganisms to create useful products ranging from fuels to food supplements, reducing reliance on non-sustainable, petroleum-based products. Moreover, biotransformations can result in stereo- and regio-selective products, which are becoming a prerequisite for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and other so-called 'fine chemicals'.
Some microbial products, such as bioadhesives and biopolymers, are biodegradable, which not only serves to protect the environment, but also improves targeted drug delivery. From using Bacillus species as templates for silicone nano-devices to the employment of bacteriorhodopsin as an information storage device, even the computer industry cannot escape the impact of microorganisms.