Microbes are Essential but They Need to be Controlled

Micro-organisms (or microbes in short) play a very important role in our lives. In fact we could not live without them, as these microscopic organisms are essential to maintaining life on earth, fixing gases and breaking down dead plant and animal matter into simpler substances that are used at the bottom of the food chain.

Biotechnologists can exploit the activities of microbes to benefit humans, such as in the production of medicines, enzymes and food. They are also used to breakdown sewage and other toxic wastes into safe matter.

Harmful Microbes

Some microbes, however, are harmful and need to be controlled in order to reduce disease and to stop them from causing harm, directly or indirectly, to our environment.

Left untreated, some of the harmful microbes can invade our body and make us ill. Microbes are well-known to cause infectious diseases such as influenza and measles. However, microbes have been found to affect the human body through an even broader range of illnesses as there is strong evidence showing that they may also contribute to many non-infectious chronic diseases such as some forms of cancer and coronary heart disease1.

Microbes that cause disease are called pathogens. Some are also responsible for making of us ill through the food we eat.

Food Poisoning

Every year, millions of people in Europe suffer from outbreaks of food poisoning2. Most cases are more unpleasant than life threatening but in 2011 a strain of Escherichia coli O104:H4 bacteria caused a serious outbreak of foodborne illness in Germany. It affected nearly 4,000 people and killed 53 of them. The source was traced to an organic farm that was subsequently shut down and to some fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt.

Fortunately such outbreaks are rare, thanks largely to the advancement of microbial control techniques whereby modern farming operations — especially the larger ones — are able to employ strict hygiene standards and safeguards designed to keep food free of pathogens.

Only if high standards of hygiene and controls of pathogens and other harmful organisms are maintained throughout the food chain by farmers and growers, manufacturers, shops, caterers and consumers, will food waste and contamination be reduced.

1 Source: http://www.microbiologyonline.org.uk/about-microbiology/microbes-and-the-human-body/microbes-and-disease
2 Sou
rce: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Food+Poisoning
3 Source: http://www.microbiologyonline.org.uk/about-microbiology/introducing-microbes/