Fertilizer is a staple of industrial farming, as it primes the soil for optimal plant growth. The industrial process for making fertilizer was dreamt up more than 100 years ago by two chemists, named Haber and Bosch, and it’s the same intensive process that allows fertilizer to be produced at commercial quantities that also puts it out of reach for the world’s poorest farmers. Specifically, the production process, which requires huge chemical plants to transform nitrogen and methane into ammonia, and considerable resources to distribute the fertilizer, leaves many impoverished farmers with no way to access this critical agricultural tool. However, Harvard University chemist Daniel Nocera and a team of researchers have engineered microbes that make their own fertilizer, and have thus found a potential solution to this significant problem.
As the CosmosID blog illustrates regularly, microbes are remarkable for their ability to shape and affect just about every aspect of the world we live in. Yet, each week we are newly awed by publications that highlight discoveries of microbial feats and applications. This week was no different, as we were captivated by a story about a researcher who aims to cure cancer using Salmonella. The idea of treating cancer with bacteria is not new. In fact, research on this particular topic dates back to at least the 1890s. However, up until now, research efforts have been inhibited by the toxicity of Salmonella.
While biomanufacturing processes have improved in performance and complexity since the mid ‘70s, and the early days of companies like Genentech, scientists have remained diligent students of natural cellular processes, which efficiently produce all sorts of beneficial compounds for products like drugs and fuels. It was in this line of research that Princeton University scientists discovered recently a global genetic regulator that can activate many otherwise silent gene clusters in a bacterium. As described in a Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) publication, this finding could enable scientists to supercharge these microbes’ natural compound production capabilities.
You may or may not be a beer drinker or know much about the brewing industry as a whole but regardless of where you fall on those spectrums of familiarity, you’ll likely be surprised by the role bacteria were found to play in hurting the quality of beer in the United Kingdom, as reported in the Beer Quality Report 2017. Published by Cask Marque, a beer quality watchdog in the UK, the Beer Quality Report shares the results of research done in 22,000 pubs across the United Kingdom. Perhaps of note to the microbiology community is the report’s section on line cleaning.