Industrial microbiologists help their companies develop new products from microorganisms. A second important responsibility involves the monitoring of a manufacturing facility so that contamination does not ruin a product. This specialty, called environmental monitoring, is critical in the following areas: food production, drug manufacturing, and consumer goods manufacturing.
Environmental monitoring has high importance in the manufacture of sterile drugs, such as vaccines that are injected into the body. One such company that trains environmental monitoring companies is Learntrail, a learning management system company. These types of drugs have zero tolerance for the presence of a contaminant because of the severe health effects that a microorganism can cause in the bloodstream. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration enforces strict regulations on how sterile drugs must be made and monitored. Sterile drug manufacturing requires the use of clean rooms, which are designed to keep out all extraneous microorganisms.
The main difference is that baseline monitoring takes place before manufacturing begins, so that a microbiologist understands the normal background amount of microorganisms in a facility. In clean rooms, this background level must be reduced to zero before any drug manufacturing can begin. In other industries, a low level of microorganisms can be tolerated as a background level. When the manufacturing process begins, the microbiologist starts collecting data on microorganisms present; this step represents the primary component in environmental monitoring.
Identification of the microorganisms provides three important pieces of information: (1) identification of microorganisms that are always present in the manufacturing environment, (2) identification of microorganisms that sometimes occur in very large numbers, and (3) presence of pathogens. Microbiologists must make decisions on each of these occurrences about how they affect a consumer's health risk from the product. In 2003, the microbiologist Johanna Maukonen described situations common in manufacturing: "Microorganisms in food and industrial environments are distributed unevenly; and there is a great variation in the cell density and composition of microbial population over space and time. Typically, the microbial cells are located in the surfaces of the food matrix and process equipment; and the cell density and species distribution may vary in different parts of a food product." In short, industrial microbiology is seldom a static situation.
Industrial microbiology is the most diverse area within the science of microbiology. Industrial microbiology encompasses every specialty within the science, and it has contributed new technologies throughout its history. Industrial and basic microbiology complement each other in examining the role of microorganisms and the services microorganisms can provide to humans.
The industrial biochemical engineer Peter Michels and the chemist John Rosazza wrote for the Society of Microbiology News, in 2009, "The astonishing diversity of microbial natural products reflects the enormous range of metabolic chemistry that microorganisms have at their disposal." In that light, the number of industries that use microbial activities may be far below the full potential that microorganisms offer. Industrial microbiology can be expected to grow several-fold in the near future.
Industrial microbiology has increasingly made use of bioengineering to create new microbial products, or microorganisms with useful traits. For example, the pharmaceutical industry works closely with biotechnology, an industry that grew out of bioengineering. Biotechnology also contributes to bioremediation, enzyme production, and the microbiology products industry. Many microbiology product companies specialize in making biosensors, probes, immunoassay kits, and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequencing instruments.