Microbiology is the study of microorganisms, living organisms or entities that can be resolved only with the help of an aided eye.
The microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, parasites and viruses. Although invisible to the naked eyes, microorganisms have an enormous role to play in the sustenance of life on the earth. Microbiology as an art is as old as human civilization; the same is evidenced by the production and use of ancient microbiologically produced foods and beverages such as bread pickle and wine.
As science subject, microbiology is almost 300 years old, the credit for rediscovery goes to a Dutch lens maker Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, who first observed them using lenses, and the lenses were later developed into present day microscopes. For microorganisms, too little to be seen does not mean too insignificant to be studied because they play crucial and irreplaceable roles, some of which are outlined below:
Infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi have the potential to eliminate the entire populations. Various emerging and re-emerging viral diseases such as Swine flu, Zika and Ebola are taking toll on the human populace. Incidentally, we are facing one of the worst pandemic the humanity has ever faced (Covid-19), that has exposed the preparedness of even the so called developed nations with cases rising at an alarming rate and even the mortality is quite high (around 4%).
Tuberculosis, a bacterial disease caused by Mycobacterium is responsible for killing millions of people every year. Microbiology is the key to prevent and minimize such outbreaks. The spread of antibiotic resistance is rendering antibiotics ineffective, a recent WHO warning, that we may run short of effective antibiotics in near future serves as an eye opener towards the need of professionals who can really understand the role of microorganisms in responding to such threats.
Microbiology professionals who can devise strategies to investigate the epidemiology, vaccination, diagnosis, antimicrobial chemotherapy and prevention of outbreaks are required to tackle the threats of emerging microbial diseases. Microbiology from healthcare perspective includes Medical bacteriology, Virology, Mycology and Parasitology.
As per the job opportunities are concerned a Microbiologist can get job in various government medical centres. In addition they can open their own clinical laboratories which will not only fulfil their need for sustenance but they can provide employment opportunities to others.
In Jammu and Kashmir we have dearth of diagnostic laboratories, especially so in the rural areas, and people have to travel hours together to the cities for specialized diagnosis. The microbiology professionals can open laboratories at district, sub-district and block levels to facilitate timely and economically viable diagnosis for various infectious diseases caused by microorganisms.
2. Food and dairy industry
Food microbiology is the study of the microorganisms that inhabit, create, or contaminate food, including the study of microorganisms causing food spoilage, pathogens that may cause disease especially if food is improperly cooked or stored, those used to produce fermented foods such as cheese, yogurt, bread, beer, and wine, and those with other useful roles such as producing probiotics. Microbiologist professionals are the backbone of food and diary industries due to the important roles played by them in the manufacture of food and quality control. Apart from academic opportunities, microbiology professionals can own their food and dairy products manufacturing units as well as food testing labs which can also create job opportunities to others.
3. Agriculture and food security
Right from the formation of soil, the promotion of plant growth, growth of livestock, to the progression and control of plant diseases, microorganisms play critical role in maximizing the agricultural outputs. As the human population continues to grow, ever greater demands are placed on food production. Soil microorganisms influence the quantity and quality of food production and key soil ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, water quality protection, climate regulation and nutrient cycling. The ongoing global climate changes caused by increase in green house gases
represent one of the biggest scientific and political challenges of the 21st century.
Soil microbiologists have an important role to play in minimizing the greenhouse gas emissions. Production of biofertilizers, biopesticides and biofuels are among the most fascinating technologies in agriculture microbiology wherein a microbiologist can develop new and unique products for enhancing the nutritional status of soil, control pests and produce green fuels, respectively.
A well trained microbiologist can open their own biofertilizer and biopesticide units at small and larger scales which can also offer jobs to others. Moreover our state’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture and horticulture sectors which is facing threats due to the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The overuse of fertilizers in addition to making the produce less alluring leads to the contamination of soil and water including ground water.
Therefore, production and application of biofertilizers and biopesticides can help in reducing the dependence of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. In the field of plant pathology, a microbiologist can play important role in the identification of the particular plant pathogen and also in looking for the remedy of various economically important diseases caused by microbial pathogens.
4. Environment and climate change
Pollution especially that of soil and water are the major threats to the living organisms across the globe. Different approaches to solve the problem have been formulated, among them the one involving microorganisms is more popular, economically viable and ecologically sustainable.
Microbial process of bioremediation has been used to degrade or transform various toxic pollutants into non-toxic or less toxic forms. Like other parts of the world, Jammu and Kashmir is also facing water and soil pollution due to indiscriminate use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Microorganisms capable of degrading such hazardous chemicals exist in nature, which can be obtained and used to degrade or transform them into less toxic forms. Additionally, microbes ensure the constant recycling of important macro-nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen, both of which form the backbone of all life on the earth. Microbes also play key roles in the recycling of other micro-nutrients.
Microorganisms are the crucial players in oxygenation of atmosphere and the degradation of organic matter Microorganism act as early indicators of pollution and are also used in the degradation of domestic and industrial waste. Based on above facts microbiology can play important role in finding solution to above problems.
Microbiology lies at the heart of genetic engineering, as the concept of genes moving from one organism to another, isolation of genes, transformation experiments and the formation of recombinants are all hosted by microorganisms like bacteria and yeast. Industrial production of enzymes, organic acids, alcoholic beverages, pickles and dairy products involve use of microorganisms and some of them are exclusively produced by microorganisms.
6. Harnessing of natural microflora of Jammu and Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most incredible biodiversity hotspot in world with rich flora and fauna including microflora. However, the microflora remains largely unexplored in this region. Therefore, microbiologist can play important role in harnessing the microflora present in such spots for industrial applications like production of various secondary metabolites like, antibiotics, enzymes and single cell proteins.
Keeping in mind the above mentioned areas that require trained microbiology professionals, it becomes imperative to take initiatives for the introduction of the subject at higher secondary and graduate levels.
Pertinently, Jammu and Kashmir is the only state/UT in India where microbiology as subject is not taught at school or college levels. Although, some of the state universities like university of Jammu, Sher-e-Kashmir University of agricultural science and technology Jammu (SKUAST-J) and university of Kashmir are already offering Microbiology programmes at post graduate level, there are no colleges offering microbiology programme at undergraduate levels.
With no exposure to the subject earlier, it becomes difficult to impart advanced education and training of the subject at the post-graduate level. Therefore, it is requested that the subject be introduced at higher secondary and under-graduate levels, so that the universities have the pool of students with elementary knowledge of the subject available to polish and further transform them into highly trained professionals.
We expect a favourable consideration to this proposal of ours, so that together we can produce highly trained professionals, who can be asset to the state organizations working in the areas of public health, environment, agriculture and biotechnology.
The trained professionals can also become entrepreneurs, who can exploit the services of microorganisms for the benefit of mankind besides creating self-employability opportunities.
By: Dr. Showkat