As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, so did the sudden curiosity on health science and wellbeing as a whole. Although powerful organisations and governments have been rendered helpless, unsure how to combat this unprecedented outbreak, this series of events raised a number of questions regarding the world of microbes.
Microbes include all unicellular organisms- bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae and viruses. These microbes play a crucial role in our environment; many microbes are involved in fundamental and essential life processes around us. Even something as simple as photosynthesis requires the help of microbes - Rhizobium and Azotobacter are bacteria which fix atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, further converted into nitrites and nitrates and used by the plants to photosynthesise. In fact, it seems impossible to even imagine a life without bacteria- no Lactobacillus to produce curd, no Bifidobacteria to facilitate digestion, and no probiotics to synthesize vitamin K for blood-clotting! Without microbes, the medicinal, agricultural, and industrial sectors would crash.
Microbes are the basis of most research studies in the medical sphere. Gene cloning is carried out through the use of bacteria. By inserting the gene of interest in bacteria, we can amplify it by thousands. This has enabled gene therapy and production of protein products such as insulin. Virus-based nanobots can alter and correct DNA sequences using vectors.
So can microbes help in cleaning our environment? Clearly. Through recombination and manipulation of the genetic material within microbes, scientists can now manufacture microorganisms which can decay waste material, including plastic!
A common misconception about viruses is that they’re living organisms. In reality, they are nothing more than genetic material (RNA or DNA) enveloped by a protein capsid. While moving from one host to another, they use the cell’s machinery to create copies of themselves by integrating their genetic material into the DNA of the host.
Why are microbes so dangerous? Being primitive and unicellular, they can evolve and proliferate at a tremendous rate - Bacteria are growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics, just as new ones are being developed. Their rapid rate of multiplication is one of the key reasons that they are practically invincible. Furthermore, mutations in viruses makes it very difficult to develop a cure. As of now, the coronavirus has already mutated 10 times, leading to further difficulty in curbing its spread.
Even though most microbes are beneficial for our environment, a single virus has the potential of wiping out 300,000 humans. It’s high time we recognize the importance of microscopic organisms and realize how even the most complex of species can be rendered powerless within months. Such is the opportunity that Vasant Valley’s Science Magazine provides you with in such trying times, as the future leaders of society. Despite being physically separated, we can unite to try and accomplish the very goal of science: to understand.