For millennia, since the discovery of fermentation, people have used the power of microbial metabolism in their daily lives. These uses were generally limited to metabolic reactions that were common in nature and played a large role in the life cycle of the host organism – for instance, one can readily find fruit that is naturally fermenting on the vine, and the fermenting yeast using the grapes as a valuable source of energy and carbon for its reproduction. These abilities have been optimized for efficiency by natural selection.
More recently, advances in gene discovery (linking genetic identity to specific chemical conversions) and genetic engineering (moving genes in and out of microorganisms, or altering genes in specific ways) have made microorganisms able to perform many more chemical reactions, all of which resulting in numerous products, ranging from food additives to antibiotics to enzymes used in detergents, are now produced in or with microorganisms.
The number of products produced in bacteria (Bioconversions) is also growing because of the drive to replace polluting chemical synthesis processes by “greener” alternatives and of the increasing need to use renewable resources.
Green Chemistry — utilization of bacteria to produce industrially important chemicals — could potentially replace traditional chemistry, a 100 billion dollar industry, if the utilized organisms could be evolved to meet efficiency and yield demands necessary for effective replacements of chemical processes. If biofuels such as ethanol and methanol become economically viable, the potential market could reach 2.5 trillion dollars. The smaller market of production of industrial enzymes is a $1.5 billion industry, and already relies entirely on microorganisms - even small gains in efficiency and yield of the utilized micro-organisms could generate considerable revenue.
In a similar fashion GMO strains producing specialty chemicals can be improved. These molecules can have direct utilization like lactic acid in biodegradable polymers or could be precursors to high value pharmaceuticals.
No human cell has been cultivated in a continuous culture apparatus to date. The unique properties of the Evolugator could allow the development of continuous culture technology for non-suspension cells such as stem cells. This would allow circumventing a major bottle-neck in the production of these cells allowing them to be used as therapeutics in many more applications.
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