Microorganisms, in the form of viruses, fungi and bacteria, are everywhere. It’s impossible to avoid them when the human body contains 10 times more bacteria than human cells. While the most familiar microorganisms are harmful, such as the flu and the common cold, many microorganisms are incredibly helpful. They have uses everywhere from agriculture to cutting-edge medical technology. Every year, researchers are finding new uses and benefits of microorganisms to be applied in medicine, infrastructure, cooking and other areas.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Microorganisms have uses and benefits across all aspects of human life. From the bacteria that help humans digest food to the viruses that help plants resist heat, bacteria, viruses and fungi – when used properly – are key components in food, medicine, agriculture and other areas. In the future, they may even be core components of infrastructure and other new technologies.
Bacteria and fungi are required to maintain a healthy environment. Not only do they recycle natural wastes and dead animal and plant matter, they also produce many of the nutrients that plants need to grow. Bacteria, in particular, are the only living things that can fix nitrogen for use in plants. At the same time, microorganisms work in tandem with certain plants to aid them. Some viruses have been found to provide heat resistance to grasses in arid locations, and many plants store bacteria in their roots to help absorb certain nutrients more easily.
Microorganisms in Food
In addition to their direct environmental benefits, microorganisms are important partners when it comes to the work of creating food. They can be used to increase the fertility of the soil and increase crop yields, and they are necessary when making products like bread, beer and cheese and when growing coffee. At the same time, foods with probiotic properties, such as yogurt and certain types of chocolate, deliver helpful microorganisms to our digestive systems.
Microorganisms known as gut flora help us digest food and regulate the production of vitamins and nutrients essential to keeping our bodies strong and healthy. Bacteria are the first line of defense the human body has against infection. The bacteria in our bodies produce natural antibiotics to repel harmful microorganisms, and if a foreign virus does infect us, many people are host to a beneficial virus that slows the rate of viral spread in the body.
We regularly aid the microorganisms in our bodies by adding more. Though certain species of microorganisms can make you sick – strep throat, the flu and measles are nothing to laugh at – modern medicine would not exist if not for the careful study of microorganisms. Bacteria and viruses are the key components of the vaccines that prevent the spread of once-deadly diseases like smallpox. Today microorganisms allow us to artificially grow helpful substances such as insulin and human growth hormones, and reprogrammed viruses are frequently used as drug-delivery mechanisms.
Technology and the Future
Applications of microorganisms in our world are constantly being studied. Certain fungi have been theorized to have anti-cancer properties, and the CRISPR Cas9 gene found in certain types of bacteria is currently being used as a gene-editing tool. Viruses have the potential to act as the future of nanotechnology, and bacteria are currently being tested as the core component of self-repairing concrete that could revolutionize infrastructure and the way we build buildings.
- Aim This Way: Bacteria
- Biotech Articles: Benefits of Microorganisms to Humans
- History of the Universe: Bacterial Benefits
- Byju's: Useful Microorganisms
- Noble Research Institute: Beneficial Microbes for Agriculture
- Northern Ireland Fungus Group: Edible Fungi
- Well.org: Health Benefits of Fungi
- Popular Science: Not All Viruses Are Enemies
- Microbe Magic: The Good Viruses
- Phys.org: Evolving a More Versatile CRISPR Cas9
- New Civil Engineer: Bacteria Used to Heal Masonry Cracks
About the Author
Blake Flournoy is a writer, reporter, and researcher based out of Baltimore, MD. Working independently and alongside professors at Goucher College, they have produced and taught a number of educational programs and workshops for high school and college students in the Baltimore area, finding new ways to connect students to biology, psychology, and statistics. They have never seen Seinfeld and are deathly scared of wasps.