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Fun with Microbes

Dr Nirupa Bareja

PhD Biological Science, Chief Adviser at the Mazumdar Shaw Medical Foundation, She’s also on the scientific & technical advisory board of three innovative start-up companies-SigTuple, Aten Porous & 1Crowd.Director-India operations-Vicus. Therapeutics USA. In an interactive session with Brewer World, Dr Nirupa Bareja, went about explaining a few basics of beer. Everything one needs  to know.


As the name implies microbes are living organisms too small to be perceived by the naked eye. They need to be seen under a microscope. The term microbe is generic encompassing a group of micro-organisms of various sizes, that is: bacteria, fungi, viruses, archaea, protists, so on.

Our focus in this article is mainly microbial bacteria and fungi Microbes are responsible for creating a variety of foods such as wine, cheese, vinegar, yogurt and sauerkraut, baking products, used widely in the fruit juice industry.

A large use of bacteria and fungi is in the fermentation process, be it the food or fruit juice. brewing industry or the more sophisticated, complex and specialised sector of pharmaceutical industry particularly, in the manufacture of drugs.

Whilst in the food industry the use of microbial fermentation is simpler it gets hugely complex when the same micro-organisms are used in the drug industry.

Survival of the fittest is the way of life in the animal kingdom including humans. Very similar is the case with microbes.

For example, the drug industry uses bacteria and fungi from specialised strains to produce specific drug metabolites. These strains typically tend to be very sensitive and delicate and can easily be over powered and contaminated by the wilder and hardier strains of micro-organisms making their growth and survival extremely challenging.

The fun element and more importantly skill here is that of the scientists-be it microbiologists, drug developers, chemical engineers, molecular biologists to diligently and painstakingly work on various permutations and combinations of different aspects of temperature, pressure, humidity, airflow, light intensity to ensure that the particular strain which is required to grow, thrives in these controlled conditions to produce the required active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) which describes that drug metabolite.

The triumph is to arrive at such a complex but perfect scenario for the microbe to achieve it’s optimal growth and activity.

A famous bio scientist once said “Microbes are like humans-if you want to get the best out of them then treat them with TLC (tender loving care) – A truly balancing act.”

So true is the statement-my personal experience with heading manufacturing at pharma companies like Biocon has been exactly the same. Once the physico chemical parameters are strictly complied with, the way in which one communicates with the microbe-be it in a lab petri dish or in a huge fermentation room determines the growth and robustness of the bug.!

Being such tiny creatures but having such an impact on our lives is amazing.

The fun aspect is endless!