Microbiology Today August 2003

Micro-organisms have a simple approach to life; they use whatever is available as a food source, attach themselves to practically all surfaces, multiply and build up biomass. The natural decay and recycling of materials by a wide range of life forms including micro-organisms is known as biodegradation and is perceived as a beneficial or positive process. On the other hand the microbial deterioration of materials of economic importance by micro-organisms, usually termed biodeterioration is perceived as a negative process. This issue of Microbiology Today looks at some of the different types of biodeterioration and ways to combat the problem.

Things that go rot in the night - a review of biodeterioration
Biodeterioration expert Glyn Morton (University of Central Lancashire) looks at how microbes can rot concrete, break down wallpaper, corrode pipes, attack textiles and leather and even damage plastics.

Everything you wanted to know about the dry-rot fungus but were afraid to ask
Dry rot of timber, caused by the fungus Serpula lacrymans, is a serious economic problem not only in domestic and commercial buildings worldwide, but also in important historic monuments. John Palfreyman and Nia White (University of Abertay) describe the dry rot fungus and the conditions necessary for its growth, how it causes timber to decay and what can be done to prevent and control its effects.

Lichens, agents of monumental destruction
Lichens are a familiar sight on buildings and trees. These symbionts of fungi and algae or cyanobacteria, are generally perceived to be harmless to the environment, but as Mark Seaward (Professor of Environmental Biology in the Department of Environmental Science, University of Bradford) describes, they can also attack stonework, resulting in damage to monuments, churches and other structures.

Conservation of monumental stones by bacterial biomineralization
Microbes are often responsible for the decay of stonework, but Brunello Perito and Giorgio Mastromei, who are based in Florence with its many fine buildings and statues, have found a way of using bacteria to conserve monuments through the technique of biomineralization.

Biodeterioration can mean business
Richard Smith describes the unit set up at the University of Hertfordshire to monitor and investigate biodegradation problems. This includes a case study of how microbes can rot your sunglasses.

Sulfate-reducing bacteria in biofilms on metallic materials and corrosion
Biocorrosion of metals is a serious problem, causing waterpipes to break up and destroying structures in marine environments. In situations where there is a lack of oxygen, sulfate-reducing bacteria are the main cause of metal deterioration. Iwona Beech of the University of Portsmouth describes the mechanisms by which these microbes wreak such havoc.

Pilzkrieg: the German wartime quest for penicillin
Turning back the clock to World War II, Dr Gilbert Shama of Loughborough University, recounts the fascinating tale of how the Germans failed to make penicillin, whilst the Anglo-American efforts were highly successful.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has dominated the headlines for months; panic has been engendered worldwide and much scientific effort has gone into understanding the cause of the disease, finding successful treatment and containing the outbreak. SGM Public Affairs Administrator Faye Jones chronicles the progress of the epidemic and coronavirus expert Dave Cavanagh explains how the medical profession can draw on the considerable knowledge of this group of viruses that already exists amongst veterinary microbiologists.

Hot off the Press highlights some new developments in microbiological research published in the Society's journals - Microbiology, Journal of General Virology, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology and Journal of Medical Microbiology. Topics covered include:

  • Arming the enemy
  • Importing cervical cancer
  • Time trends in cervical cancer
  • When is an outbreak not an outbreak?
  • Gangrene - evading the body's defences
  • Keratin-digesting bacterium
  • Parasitic wasp has new stealth agent

Other items include:

Last updated 27 October 2003