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Chapter 8 : Utilizing Microbes
Pasteurization with its subsequent developments was only one of the many technological applications that followed from Louis Pasteur’s discoveries. Without denying that ordinary chemical forces can slowly attack organic matter, Pasteur thus affirmed his belief that decomposition is chiefly caused by microorganisms. Since for almost every type of substance there exists in nature some microorganisms peculiarly adapted to its destruction or modification, it follows that humans should be able to take advantage of this diversity and versatility of the microbial world for useful purposes. He stated that "A day will come, I am convinced, when microorganisms will be utilized in certain industrial operations on account of their ability to transform organic matter." This prophecy has been fulfilled, and today we are in the era of biotechnology when organic acids, various solvents, vitamins, drugs, and enzymes are produced on an enormous scale by microbial processes—all this a logical development of Pasteur's work. In theory, it should be possible, by the judicious selection of microbial strains, to produce almost any amino acid with the help of microorganisms. In practice, of course, many difficulties arise. Nevertheless, processes for microbial production of glutamic acid (used as a flavor enhancer), lysine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine (used in the production of the artificial sweetener aspartame) are in place. Pasteur demonstrated that with the proper knowledge one could control the biochemical activities of microorganisms, and make them produce almost any type of chemical compound, the most complicated as well as the simplest.