Normal flora

Microorganisms, microbes and "beasties"

Introduction to microbes (extract from "And You Thought You Were Safe")

'Microbes only want a free meal'

While you read, try to keep in mind that these 'beasties' are not intentionally plotting our destruction. In the case of many bacteria and fungi, they inhabit us as "accidental tourists" and flourish on and within us, obtaining nutrients from our metabolism. Microbes are merely perpetuating their species and the meeting between 'them' and 'us' is purely coincidental. Microbes cannot think or plot. Think of microbes as little machines that will begin to digest and break down any living tissue that you place them on. If conditions are not right (low temperatures) bacteria and fungi will lie patiently in a dormant state until the time is right. They have no appointments, no schedule. They will wait. And this can be hundreds to thousands of years. When suitable conditions arise, they will begin digesting their food source, multiplying in the process, until full decomposition occurs. These micro-machines are an invaluable part of the food chain and every ecosystem. By breaking down organic matter, bacteria and fungi ultimately return nutrients into the soil for plants and other microbes to feed on. It's a never- ending cycle essential to our survival. On the other hand, an accidental liaison with the wrong microbe can be disastrous for us as well.

Microbes at work

Aside from being an invaluable component in every ecosystem, man uses microbes for many industrial purposes. Antibiotics used in medicine for the treatment of bacterial infections are the products of microbes. Drugs and other medicinal products can also be produced with the assistance of microbes in well-controlled environments. Many of our favourite beverages including beers and wine are created with the chemical machinery of microbes. The variety of well-known cheese, Blue Stilton (pictured below), is made from curds (solids) of fermented milk, separated from the whey (liquid), salted, and then pressed into blocks. Cheese is ripened with bacteria or fungi. Penicillin moulds are injected into Blue Stilton. The different microbes used, create different by-products, giving a cheese its distinctive flavour. We entitle the microbes to a free meal by inoculating the milk and cheese

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