Microbiology Today February 2004

Making money out of microbiology is not new. Fermented products such as beer and cheese have been made for thousands of years and played an important part in early economies. In the 20th century the antibiotic era contributed significantly to the commercial success of the pharmaceutical industry. In more recent years the recombinant DNA revolution has opened up infinite possibilities for exploiting the capabilities of micro-organisms. The biotechnology industry has never been more buoyant and many research scientists are taking their discoveries to the marketplace. This issue of Microbiology Today takes a close look at different aspects making money out of microbes.

Making money from microbes
In an overview, David Onions of Glasgow University, who has successfully set up a biotech company in Scotland, describes how this new culture of scientific enterprise has come about.

Money matters
Coming up with a great discovery is one thing, but financing its development is another matter. Simon Browning, Managing Director of Connect Yorkshire, a support organization for early stage technology businesses, sheds some light on ways to fund a new biotech venture. He supplements his description with two case studies.

Patent strategies for biotechnology companies
Another part of the commercialization minefield is protecting the invention on which the development is based. Sandy Primrose and Richard Gillard, who are consultants in this field, explain all there is to know about patenting innovations to keep the competitors at bay.

Materials Transfer Agreements - 'material' issues
Scientists in different research organization have traditionally shared materials and reagents, but an increasing awareness of the legal and commercial issues involved - not least the potential value of intellectual property rights arising from any research - has led to the proliferation of Materials Transfer Agreements to put such sharing a controlled, contractual basis. Claudia Riordan, a former biochemist and trainee solicitor, sets out the many facets of this complex field.

Making money from microbes - case studies
How was it for them? Two scientists who have taken the plunge and entered the world of spin-offs and start-ups recount their experiences. Jeff Errington, Professor Microbiology at the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford and Duncan Maskell, Marks and Spencer Professor of Farm Animal Health, Food Science and Food Safety at the Cambridge University Centre for Veterinary Science, spill the beans.

Getting into biobusiness
Finding help and advice to transform a great concept into a money-making reality can be daunting. SGM's Faye Jones has explored the internet and come up with an annotated list of useful websites and resources to help the aspiring entrepreneur.

Biotechnology YES
You are never too young to aspire to be an entrepreneur. John Peberdy, former Director of Curriculum Development at the University of Nottingham Institute for Enterprise and Innovation, describes a scheme to train young scientists in the necessary skills. The annual competition is very popular and some of the winners have gone on to make their fortunes in real life. What will become of the 2003 team from York University, who let us know the secrets of their winning formula?

Lactic acid bacteria - the uninvited but generally welcome participants in malt whisky fermentation
Whisky production is an example of a large-scale biotech enterprise. It is generally believed that yeasts are the most important microbes involved in the process, but as Fergus Priest of the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling, Edinburgh, explains, lactic acid bacteria actually play a significant part in the production of the characteristic flavour of the Scotch.

Comment - Are politicians listening?
As Peter Cotgreave, Director of Save British Science, describes in Comment, it has never been more vital for researchers to explain their science to the general public and to get across the importance of their work to politicians.

Taking up this theme, new SGM President Hugh Pennington promises that the Society will play a major role in bringing this about for microbiology, including a new scheme to train members in science communication.

In addition SchoolZone shows some practical ways in which microbiologists can promote their science in schools.

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:

  • Rapid identification of TB
  • The importance of biofilms in plague
  • Further evidence for simian origin of HIV
  • The 'crypton' factor
  • Is there life on Mars?
  • Animal origins of human T cell leukaemia virus
  • Benefits of retrovirus infection?

Other items include:

Last updated 13 February 2004