Published/Hosted by Future Medicine.
Microbiology has inevitably been impacted by the genomic revolution, with the first microbial genome sequencing project, that of Haemophilus influenzae, being completed in 1995. While microbes are thought to make up approximately 60% of the earth’s biomass, less than 1% of them have been characterized thus far. Currently, a number of agencies are continuing the enormous task of mapping these DNA sequences, particularly those that are of medical importance, or have the potential to be used in bioterrorism. Research into the extreme diversity of microbial organisms will lead to the elucidation of new biologic pathways and gene products, and thus potential therapeutic strategies to combat or prevent infection. The availability of both human and microbial genome sequences will allow scientists to better understand exactly how microbes interact with the hosts they infect, and how an individual’s genetic make-up influences their susceptibility to pathogens. The development of more accurate and rapid diagnostic techniques is also crucial. For example, current screening methods for MRSA, an increasingly problematic nosocomial infection, require around 2–3 days for accurate diagnosis, delaying adequate treatment and containment. New technologies are being developed that will facilitate the more rapid dissemination of suitable control methods. In the case of novel or re-emerging pathogens, the ability to rapidly identify a potential epidemic will be invaluable. The study of microbiology is also crucial to the understanding, and potentially the treatment, of cancer. It has now been established that around 10–20% of cancers are associated with viral infection. A better understanding of this mechanism could lead to novel cancer therapies, and even preventative vaccines. Bacteria may also have a role to play in the treatment of solid tumors; while using bacteria as anticancer agents currently causes unacceptable levels of toxicity, research in this field is growing. Microbes play a key role in genetic engineering. Studies of bacterially-produced human proteins are continuing, with many new proteins expected to enter the treatment armamentarium in the coming years. Viruses are being utilized as vectors for the delivery of therapeutic genes for the treatment of a variety of illnesses. Bacteriophages are also being developed for the treatment of bacterial infections. The development of resistance to current treatment strategies is set to continue, and will become a greater problem in the future unless new treatment methods are developed. It is to be hoped that genetic research will aid scientists in combating this problem.
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