Nature Farm

The Advance of our Understanding of Microorganisms

NF Home v4The uniqueness of microorganisms and their often unpredictable nature and biosynthetic capabilities, given a specific set of environmental and cultural conditions, has made them likely candidates for solving particularly difficult problems in the life sciences and other fields as well.

The various ways in which microorganisms have been used over the past 50 years to advance medical technology, human and animal health, food processing, food safety and quality, genetic engineering, environmental protection, agricultural biotechnology, and more effective treatment of agricultural and municipal wastes provide a most impressive record of achievement.

Many of these technological advances would not have been possible using straightforward chemical and physical engineering methods, or if they were, they would not have been practically or economically feasible.

Nevertheless, while microbial technologies have been applied to various agricultural and environmental problems with considerable success in recent years, they have not been widely accepted by the scientific community because it is often difficult to consistently reproduce their beneficial effects. Microorganisms are effective only when they are presented with suitable and optimum conditions for metabolizing their substrates including available water, oxygen (dependingon whether the micro-organisms are obligate aerobes or facultative anaerobes), pH and temperature of their environment.

Meanwhile, the various types of microbial cultures and inoculants available in the market today have increased rapidly because of these new technologies. Significant achievements are being made in systems where technical guidance is coordinated with the marketing of microbial products. Since microorganisms are useful in eliminating problems associated with the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, they are now widely applied in nature farming and organic agriculture (Higa, 1991; Parr et al.,1994).

Environmental pollution, caused by excessive soil erosion and the associated transport of sediment, chemical fertilizers and pesticides to surface waters and groundwater, and improper treatment of human and animal wastes has caused serious environmental and social problems throughout the world. Often engineers have attempted to solve these problems using established chemical and physical methods. However, they have usually found that such problems cannot be solved without using microbial methods and technologies in coordination with agricultural production (Reganold et al.,1990; Parr and Hornick, 1992a).

For many years, soil microbiologists and microbial ecologists have tended to differentiate soil microorganisms as beneficial or harmful according to their functions and how they affect soil quality, plant growth and yield, and plant health. As shown in Table 1 (p. 14), beneficial microorganisms are those that can fix atmospheric nitrogen, decompose organic wastes and residues, detoxify pesticides, suppress plant diseases and soil-borne pathogens, enhance nutrients.

Taken from "Beneficial and effective microorganisms for a Sustainable Agriculture and Environment"; Dr. Teruo Higa, Professor of Horticulture, University of the Ryukyus
Okinawa, Japan, and Dr. James F. Parr, Soil Microbiologist, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Beltsville, Maryland, USA.