Marine micro-organisms: Incredible biotool for humankind

Marine micro-organisms: Incredible biotool for humankind
“Ce sont les microbes qui auront le dernier mot” (It is the microbes that will have the last say), the famous quote of “Louis Pasteur” reminds the whole mankind about the potential of micro-organisms. The dynamic ability and versatility of these omnipresent, omnipotent microorganisms cannot be overemphasised. Micro-organisms shape and cycle the nutrient flow in the biosphere by their unique geochemical activity and enormous diversity. Among all, marine habitat covering 70% of the earth’s surface provides the largest inhabitable space for living organisms, particularly microbes. Experts estimated that biological diversity in ocean and sea floor is higher than tropical rainforests, so ocean forms an environment with utmost biodiversity. Scientists have proved that microbes cycle about one-half of the global biogeochemical flux of biologically important elements, such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and iron.

The speciality of microbes present in this habitat comes because of their exposure towards extreme high pressure (1100 atm), drastic temperature (below 0°C/above 100°C) on the deep sea floor, to high acidic condition (pH - 2 to 3) and a huge amount of inorganic salt concentrations. The existence of marine micro-organisms was first reported in the late 19th century, and they were found to be metabolically and physiologically different from terrestrial micro-organisms. Distribution of marine micro-organisms is 107-8 cells per ml with most of the biomass being bacteria, Archaea, and fungi. These organisms are nutritionally diverse including phototrophic and chemotrophic primary producers as well as heterotrophic ‘secondary’ producers, which recycle dissolved organic carbon and nutrients. In recent days, deep sea/marine hydrothermal vents in the sea floor are the centre of attraction for the study of microbes and their new metabolites for searching of new drugs/antibiotics.

Micro-organisms from marine ecosystem are the greatest source to discover useful therapeutics and novel metabolites with potent pharmacological properties. Their biotechnological potential is enormous. The major aspects include antibiotics and novel pharmaceuticals (e.g. alkaloids, quinolones), vitamins and PUFAs (e.g. vitamin A, cholecalciferol (D3), β- carotene), antifouling agents, biopolymers and biosurfactants (e.g. emulsan), biomonitors (e.g. Salmonella for detection of faecal pollution in potable water), biopigments (e.g. carotenoids and xanthophylls), bioremediation, single cell oils, enzymes, biomass source for microbially enhanced production of biodiesel, surfactants and lipids, etc.

Although marine microbes are explored for new drugs, there is still a long way to go. Extensive studies are needed in the field of curing AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s and ageing process utilising marine microbial resources. The approach needs to be more focused and organised to combat multi-drug resistance and a serious threat of re-emerging infectious diseases. Knowledge about the exact mechanism of action of the microbial metabolites, cross talk between marine sciences and microbial biotechnology, a proper understanding of the chemical interactions in the oceanic environment may be needed for development of new class of drugs. So the area of marine microbiology is of immense interest for the young minds heading towards new discoveries in future. In India as well as abroad many research laboratories and universities are working on the mentioned field to explore marine microbial diversity and development of new drugs/antibiotics. Therefore, it is the right time for the young generations of India to focus on higher studies in the field of basic biological sciences to work for better and sustainable tomorrow.

Because it is the microbes that will have the last say…
How to cite this article:
Balaram Mohapatra. Marine micro-organisms: Incredible biotool for humankind. BioLim O-Media. 18 August, 2016. 4(8).
Available from: