Issue: Microbial Tools

15 May 2018 article


Welcome to the May edition of Microbiology Today – in this issue, we are celebrating the enormously varied world of microbial tools. Although when considering microbes we are so often focused on their harmful potential and the control of their influence, it is worth stopping to consider the other side of the story, and the many and wide-ranging ways in which their influence positively enhances our lives. From construction materials through to pest control, our authors reveal the fascinating ways in which microbes are used. 

Starting off with a look into the use of bacteria in the construction industry, a team from the University of Bath – Timothy Hoffman, Bianca Reeksting, Richard Cooper, Kevin Paine and Susanne Gebhard – take us through the possibilities of using bacteria to create self-healing concrete. They outline the current problems of decay and damage in building materials, and highlight the way in which microbial metabolism can be harnessed to address these issues, demonstrating how this technology could have real potential to improve construction in the future. 

Next up, with a specialised set of microbial tools, are Simon Gregory and Megan Barnett discussing how microbes can impact on the geological disposal of radioactive waste. They deliver an insight into how different microbes can alter the way in which radioactive waste is contained and degraded, either helping or hindering the containment process. Natural populations of microbes found deep beneath the earth have the potential to reduce the barrier abilities of material designed to keep waste in, while other microbes within the population reduce the solubility and mobility of radioactive molecules, helping to contain waste until it is less harmful. 

Taking us on a walk through influenza pseudotype research and development, Nigel Temperton explains how the creation of viral pseudotypes can remove some of the obstacles traditionally encountered when working on novel therapeutics for emerging and potentially highly dangerous viruses. Not only has the design and construction of retroviral pseudotype viruses provided stable and safe mimics of pathogenic viruses, and allowed testing of vaccines, screening of monocloncal antibodies and resistance studies. It has also enabled these tests to be carried out in biosafety level 1 laboratories rather than BSL-3 or 4 laboratories, vastly increasing the global accessibility of the tests.

Moving on to another distinctive set of microbial tools, Paul Dyson and Miranda Whitten focus on the use of bacterial-mediated RNA interference of specific pests as a sustainable strategy for protecting crops, livestock and human health. The use of symbiont-mediated RNA interference has the potential to minimise the impact of pest control on beneficial insects such as pollinators, and also has implications for the control of insect-vectored human pathogens.

Bringing us a piece on viruses as lifesaving drugs are Jonathan Welsh, Helen Young, Ruth Stephen and Sam Laurel Stephen. The production of recombinant viral vectors that potentially could be used in gene therapy is complex, and the initial work can often be carried out in academia. For these viral vectors to make it through to a viable end product, there is the issue of scale to be addressed. Our authors explain how the Centre for Process Innovation can assist academics, industry and government in the development of large-scale processes to good manufacturing practice standards, hoping to make gene therapy more affordable and accessible to everyone. 

When researching and developing within the world of microbial tools, thinking about how you can protect your intellectual property could be particularly pertinent. For our Comment piece, Alice Smart gives us some clarity about the uses of patenting, providing us with a list of dos and don’ts, as well as an idea of why you might want to patent. Alice gives a valuable guide through a process often neglected by those focused on research, often at the expense of protecting their inventions.

Rowena Jenkins

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Image: Pre-filled syringes and vials containing the 2014/2015 seasonal influenza vaccine. Dr P. Marazzi/Science Photo Library.