What is the importance of bacteria?
A lot of the information we hear about bacteria is about the types that cause disease, but there are many types of bacteria. Some are very useful to us, and some are essential to our health.
Lactic acid bacteria are used in the dairy industry to produce yogurt and cheeses, and in the meat industry for salami and pepperoni. Bacteria ferment wine, sour dough bread and saurkraut.
Biotechnology uses bacteria to produce numerous products including
fuels, foods, medicines, hormones, enzymes, proteins, and nucleic acids....human hormones such as insulin, enzymes such as streptokinase, and human proteins such as interferon and tumor necrosis factor.
Bacteria that live in our digestive tract break down various nutrients for us. Bacteria are on and within our bodies; some are beneficial, others not. Some that are helpful in one area are harmful in another. E. coli are essential helpers in the lower gut, but dangerous in the upper parts of the tract.
Bacteria also act as decomposers, an important part of the ecosystem. Without them, dead organisms would not decay as quickly and nutrients would not be recycled as efficiently.
Although bacteria are often associated with various diseases in humans, animals and plants, they also have important applications in the world today.
In the food industry, certain bacteria are used in the fermentation process for products such as beer, yogurt and cheese. In addition, specific types of bacteria called probiotics are added to human food because of their beneficial digestion properties.
In agriculture, certain bacteria and their products are used to fight devastating diseases and insects in crops. For example the bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis produces proteins that are lethal to certain insects that attack corn and cotton. Other bacteria such as the Agrobacterium tumefaciens are used to transfer important genes into plants through a process called genetic engineering. Some bacteria are also used in agriculture to clean fields that have high levels of toxic metals because they can effectively convert toxic complex metals into non-toxic products.
In biotechnology, bacteria are used to mass-produce important products such as hormones (e.g. insulin) and proteins (e.g. enzymes) through a process called cloning. These products have important uses in medicine.