The start of a new journey

Welcome back everyone for the last time!

Throughout the past 10 weeks or so, I have covered many aspects of microbiology and the relevance towards the current environmental crisis that we are crisis.

These ranged from uses in plastic degradation, alternatives in the fuel industry, aiding the agricultural sector and sustainable food alternatives. There are definitely more uses for microbes in other fields that I believe are still very relevant, such as in air pollution, and other medicinal uses.

Microbes can also be linked to superbugs and their rising prevalence in today’s society where antibiotics are frequently misused.

I also talked about the different perspectives that people have with microbes, and how that can be changed.

From this post onwards, this blog will be used mostly to compile new information that I find on microbiology that may solve other issues in society or just interesting information that I find.

I hope that you guys will continue to follow this blog if possible even if it doesn’t directly address issues linked to the environmental crisis! Thank you all for reading my past few blogs and this is just a small update to let you know what’s going on next time.

Zooming out,
Shanice

Sparking the change

Hello everyone! The end of the semester is nearing, and I hope everyone is coping well. We only have a few more weeks to push through! 

In my previous post, I talked about the perspectives of Singaporeans towards microbes — and how it is a very unknown, or avoided topic. One would think that this wouldn’t be the case, given the advance of science and increased usage of algae and fungi uses in various sectors. Along with the increasing popularity of ‘green’ shakes, algae shakes would definitely just seem to be a part of that trend. 

What can we do about this? Often, the first step to changing perspectives is to raise awareness and attract interest. 

As seen through my post about algae uses, more of my peers have been interested in the biodegradable algae bottles and algae shake that they did not know of. This is as the bottles are highly relevant to problems that most of us have observed in our local urban environment— the problem of plastic. 

Not to mention, the contents of my previous posts are just the tip of the iceberg for things related to microbiology and their relevance to our climate crisis. 


Credit: https://i0.wp.com/news.algaeworld.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Researchers-turn-algae-into-a-material-as-hard-as-steel.png?w=672&ssl=1
Using algae to make a hard material! 

Other such problems that algae could combat would be our usage of finite resources such as metals— as seen through an article I found, algae could potentially work as hard as steel to replace metal used in our transport vehicles.

Let’s not get too hasty — is it really just about whether the topic is interesting? What about if it’s profitable? Would anyone really start innovating with this just because it is interesting? 

 I believe that to start the change, we need to start making microbial products that are available for usage in our daily lives, and I don’t just mean through probiotics. The algae biodegradable bottle is an excellent example of this, but might not be as feasible due to the poor shape retention of the algae. Not to mention, the hardness of the material.

As for profit-wise, it is clear from statistics shown that microbial products have been seen as a rising industry. In sectors like agriculture and fuels, not only are they gaining popularity, but they also are countering environmental costs. And this is particularly not hard to imagine, with most of my survey respondents agreeing that it could definitely be a profitable industry. 

One viable way we can spark this change is to implement algae-food alternatives and the like more into the trendy food market. After all, we do eat mushrooms quite frequently and those are fungi! Why not algae?


https://img.alicdn.com/i4/muzi-spirulina-soft-heart-cranberry-cookies-delicious-snack-snack-food-clip-clip-heart-biscuit-pastry-dishes/TB1xFr7KpXXXXX_apXXXXXXXXXX_!!0-item_pic.jpg
I found these delicious looking spirulina cookies online!

I do hope you will join me in this journey — as I definitely am trying out these algae snacks sometime these last few weeks of the year.

Zooming out,
Shanice

Perspectives on microbes

Hi everyone! Today I would like to talk about the perspectives that you all have on microbes and the challenges that come with it.

 Microbes include bacteria, algae, protozoa and some types of fungi. Knowing this, it is not surprising that when the word ‘microbe’ is mentioned, people relate it to most bacteria and diseases. 

In a survey that I conducted, I found out that more than half of 42 participants did not know what were microbes, although 95% know about probiotics and how useful they are to us. Most only related the usage of microbes towards these probiotics, or towards things like viruses.

What is the problem with this? 

Well, as discussed through my previous posts, microbes have a wide variety of usages that are not very evident to most people — from fuels to biodegradation, and in food alternatives. In my survey, I mostly shared it with students of NUS that have attained at least a diploma or an A level certificate. What this tells us is that microbes are still a very unknown topic in Singapore. 

Personally, I think that this needs to be changed. Not just because I absolutely love microbiology and the possibilities that they bring with them, but because I think that they might garner more interest among the population. With exposure, more people might be accepting of a wider usage of microbes or interested in innovating with microbes. 

The other day, I also asked my friend if she had tried the algae shake from simpliigood that I mentioned from my previous post. I had noticed that she was following the Instagram account. Unfortunately, she did not know that it was ab algae shake, and had, in fact, thought it was a matcha shake. 

With this, I added this question into my survey:

Where most respondents mentioned that the reason they were hesitant to try it was because they associated algae with dirt, and were concerned with the consequences it might have on their health. Others commented that they were willing to try it if it had benefits for them. 

To answer this query, the type of algae that they used (Spirulina) is packed with many nutrients and also antioxidants. They are proven to provide many more health benefits. 

I hope that this survey has given you some information on how Singaporeans view microbes. It certainly surprised me with the results! I had thought that more people knew about what microbes were. 

Please do help share with your peers and family about what microbes are, other than probiotics! I think that it could be an exciting topic to chat about. 

Zooming out,
Shanice

Possibilities with Algae

Hi everyone! 

In the previous post, we discussed the different type of more sustainable fuels such as biogas and algae fuels. Despite algae fuels turning out to be more disappointing than I had hoped, I still would like to bring your attention to the other uses of algae! 

So, what’s up with algae? 


credits: https://www.whoi.edu/cms/images/PSP_worldmap_2014_422417.jpg 

Harmful algae blooms have been occurring throughout the globe nearby coastal countries. These can be attributed to increased fertilizer usage and hence run-off into water, and to global warming (NOAA, 2016). And, you guessed it, these all lead to the deaths of marine life and damages the environment. 

The algae responsible for these harmful algae blooms, blue-green algae, are definitely undesirable at this point in time. However, other forms of algae are not. 

Red algae and brown algae are different types of algae that are available as food sources (Kazior, 2019). Furthermore, red algae can be used to produce clothes that are carbon-neutral such as the raincoat made by Charlotte McCurdy (Algaeworldnews, 2019). A product design student, Ari Jonnson, also used red algae to produce a biodegradable water bottle that is safe to drink from (Morby, 2019).


https://static.dezeen.com/uploads/2016/03/algae-water-bottle-by-ari-jonsson-designmarch_dezeen_ban-1024×731.jpg 

These are all really promising, especially as studies have shown that the use of these algae products will allow more carbon dioxide to be absorbed than released into the atmosphere (Palisoc, 2019)

In my previous posts, I have discussed the possibilities of using microbes in the degradation of plastics. However, these articles have started to shift my viewpoint. Innovation using algae products will help to solve our problems from the ground up by preventing further usage of these unsustainable materials. 

In Singapore this year, start-up company Simpliigood has started to partner with local companies to sell spirulina. Spirulina is a type of algae that can be used to make foods such as biscuits, popsicles and others (Chua, 2019). This might be popular towards people who are looking for healthier, vegan options and Simpliigoodsg has over 3,000 followers on Instagram! 

I will definitely be trying this algae out in the form of a shake when I am able to, and hope you all will consider it too.

Zooming out,
Shanice

Bibliography
Algaeworldnews. (2019, October 3). This raincoat made from algae offers a message of hope. Retrieved from https://news.algaeworld.org/2019/08/this-raincoat-made-from-algae-offers-a-message-of-hope/.

Chua, T. (2019, June 26). Singapore first in Asia to taste food made from spirulina algae. Retrieved from https://www.theedgesingapore.com/news/startups-entrepreneurs-digital-economy/singapore-will-be-first-asia-taste-these-food-spirulina.

Kazior, J. P. (2019, October 3). Algae Demand Our Attention. Retrieved from https://www.core77.com/posts/90547/Algae-Demand-Our-Attention.

Morby, A. (2019, July 19). Ari Jónsson uses algae to create biodegradable water bottles. Retrieved from https://www.dezeen.com/2016/03/20/ari-jonsson-algae-biodegradable-water-bottles-iceland/.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (2016, April 27). What is a harmful algal bloom? Retrieved from https://www.noaa.gov/what-is-harmful-algal-bloom.

Palisoc, M. (2019, July 26). Innovative Materials with Carbon Fibres Made from Algae. Retrieved from https://www.scienceandtechnologyresearchnews.com/innovative-materials-with-carbon-fibres-made-from-algae/.

 

Fuels reinvented

Hi everyone! 

I was on youtube browsing some cute animal videos when I saw this ad which perked my interest!

Mobilexxon is a company that has had a large influence in Singapore’s petroleum industry. Recently, they have had a push for more renewable fuels such as algae fuels. 

Now, this may sound interesting, and whilst I am particularly favourable to a shift towards microbiology usage in fuels, I realized how far-fetched the idea is after some research. 

Biofuels from microorganisms include both algae fuels and biogas. For algae fuels, these are made through the natural production of oil from algae (EERE, 2012). There are many problems with algae fuels. They are often inefficient and expensive, due to the large amount of space required and also the amount of input required for the algae to produce oil (Flynn, 2018).

Mobilexxon has also been accused of using this publicity to lobby for higher revenue (Teirstein, 2018), as people believe that they are doing something towards helping fight climate change. I am definitely not confirming this as true or false, but it is something that we should all be familiar and cautious of in today’s world.

Instead, perhaps we should bring our focus back to biogas instead of algae-related fuels. Biogas usually refers to the methane produced from the decomposition of organic waste by bacteria. Production of biogas is collected usually through biogas digesters. 

This brings me back to a conversation I had with my project mates where we had discussed the usage of such biogas and whether we could scale it down to something where everyone could do. During that conversation, someone mentioned the local usage of biogas in Tampines! 


credits:https://www.towardszerowaste.sg/images/demo-project-sludge.jpg
Singapore’s movement towards a more green source of energy!

The development of biogas digesters in Singapore has been put in place, using food waste. In fact, Singapore has implemented a policy towards the collection of such food wastes from popular areas just for the objective of producing biogas (NEA, 2019).

The biogas produced so far has not been sufficient enough for conversion to electricity as seen in the plant at Ulu Pandan. However, this still does not change the fact that concrete steps are being taken in the right direction for increased usage of biofuels locally which is impressive. 

With this, I hope this has allowed you to have a better understanding of the local fuel situation. 

Zooming out,
Shanice

 

Bibliography:
EERE. (2012, September 12). Energy 101: Algae-to-Fuel. Retrieved from https://www.energy.gov/eere/videos/energy-101-algae-fuel.

Flynn, K. (2018, September 7). Algal biofuel production is neither environmentally nor commercially sustainable. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/algal-biofuel-production-is-neither-environmentally-nor-commercially-sustainable-82095.

NEA. (2019, March 7). Food Waste Segregation For Treatment By Large Commercial & Industrial Food Waste Generators To Be Mandatory From 2024. Retrieved from https://www.nea.gov.sg/media/news/news/index/food-waste-segregation-for-treatment-by-large-commercial-industrial-food-waste-generators-to-be-mandatory-from-2024.

Teirstein, Z. (2018, August 8). What’s with Exxon’s big algae push? Retrieved from https://grist.org/article/whats-with-exxons-big-algae-push/.

Microbes and the food crisis (part 2)

Welcome back, Everyone!

Continuing from last week’s post, I will be focusing on one particular area that microbial usage in food has caught my attention. That is the potential of using microbes to make feed that will help to feed livestock. 

 You may have heard of probiotics; beneficial microbes that are available for consumption that will help to boost your digestion and immune system. This is as those microbes will replace existing bad microbes present in your digestive tract and prevent diseases from entering your bloodstream (Bomgardner, 2019)

Common examples that you might know are Yakult and Vitagen. 

 


credits: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_ebZ6xigOK-k/TCwhgxo5oZI/AAAAAAAAAX8/FMndAwhzhSE/s1600/vitagen.jpg 

Although these are for human application, the usage of probiotics extends towards livestock too, in the form of protein-rich feed. Amongst the last few years, this has gotten increasingly popular and for good reason. 

Probiotics are an alternative to antibiotics, and may even help to boost the growth of livestock. Combined with higher preferences for more natural meat, this may help boost the revenue for farmers (Jacobsen, 2017). They work to help prevent diseases in livestock (Halim, 2019) which is vital in securing food security especially due to our rising global food demands.

Not only that, but the usage of probiotics and microbial feed to replace the conventional feed can help to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from agriculture (Koeleman, 2018). 

I believe that this is a key example to show the growing acceptance of the general public towards the usage of microbes that may have once been thought of as disease-carrying or dirty. 

Unfortunately, as these are not synthetic chemicals, some sources have told us of inconsistent results that may not be as reliable (Patil, 2018). In my opinion, this trade-off is still worth it. This is as, despite less consistent results, this is still much more favourable in terms of ensuring less health problems.

Furthermore, replacement of antibiotics are vital as they contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Manyi-Loh, Mamphweli, Meyer and Okoh, 2018) and especially from usage in livestock (McKenna, 2019). This can have adverse effects on public health and may impact animal species survivability negatively.

The impact of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, on humans have been well-researched. However, I have not been able to find the impact of them on animal species which I find quite disconcerting as I feel we have a habit of carelessly handling chemicals for the environment to suffer from. 

With this, I hope that such antibiotics will increasingly be replaced by probiotic and other alternatives. Both for the sake of our society and the environment.

Zooming out,
Shanice



Bibliography:

Bomgardner, M. M. (2019, January 24). Boosting farm animal health with beneficial microbes. Retrieved from https://cen.acs.org/business/agriculture/Boosting-farm-animal-health-beneficial/97/i4.

Halim, S. (2019, May 15). Probiotics for poultry on the rise due to growing consumption of meat & egg. Retrieved from https://www.healtheuropa.eu/probiotics-for-poultry/91623/.

Jacobsen, S. R. (2017, July 6). Demand for Probiotics to Replace Antibiotics in Meat. Retrieved from https://www.foodqualityandsafety.com/article/demand-probiotics-replace-antibiotics-meat/.

Koeleman, E. (2018, June 22). Microbial protein in feed: Better for the environment. Retrieved from https://allaboutfeed.net/Compound-Feed/Articles/2018/6/Microbial-protein-in-feed-Better-for-the-environment-300168E/.

Manyi-Loh, C., Mamphweli, S., Meyer, E., & Okoh, A. (2018, March 30). Antibiotic Use in Agriculture and Its Consequential Resistance in Environmental Sources: Potential Public Health Implications. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017557/.

McKenna, M. (2019, September 19). Farm Animals Are the Next Big Antibiotic Resistance Threat. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/story/farm-animals-are-the-next-big-antibiotic-resistance-threat/.

Patil, V. (2018, June 27). Probiotic Use Growing in Animal Feed and Nutrition. Retrieved from http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/trends-business/probiotic-use-growing-animal-feed-and-nutrition.

An introduction to Microbiology

Greetings all! 

I would first like to start the blog with a brief introduction to myself. Having grown up with a large variety of pets ranging from hamsters to dogs and birds, I have had a vested interest in biology. This was furthered by small plant experiments facilitated by school, that piqued my interest.

Read more An introduction to Microbiology