Advances in medicine have made us aware of the dangers of bacteria which can cause strep throat, gastroenteritis or cholera. But most bacteria are far from being pathogenic, and some of them can actually be beneficial to our bodies.
There would be a thousand billion species of microorganism out there, compared to just 10 million animal species. They are absolutely everywhere: in the air, in the ground, in the water. Measuring between one and 10 microns, these unicellular organisms "regulate ecosystems, modulate the flow of carbon and nitrogen, produce half of the available oxygen, form symbioses with all living things, protect against pathogenic microbes, facilitate the absorption of nutrients, inform the immune system and regulate a number of physiological parameters," writes the French bimonthly magazine "Socialter,". And for some time now bacteria are being cultivated to address new needs and even to help us reduce our environmental footprint.
Microbiota and fermentation
The tide perhaps began turning with talk of microbiota. Suddenly, it was all the rage to take an interest in the inner life of our intestines and those microorganisms that populate our guts, without which we would experience bloating, flatulence or seriously disturbed digestion. Bacteria, which are the basis of the fermentation processes, have given new life to foods such as yogurts, pickles, or sauerkraut.
During the fermentation process, microorganisms consume the sugar and water contained in the food. By multiplying, these microscopic living beings change the taste, as well as the texture and even the colour of a food. They are also able to boost food content of vitamins B and C, as well as zinc and iron, and even make proteins more digestible.
Last summer, US researchers from the Stanford School of Medicine discovered that following a diet enriched with fermented foods for 10 weeks increased the diversity of the microbiome, and that it was even possible to help maintain weight, and reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease. Up to six such foods should be eaten to enjoy the benefits. Actually, bacteria have become indispensable to our diets, as fermented products make up 5 to 40% of the human diet, depending on the culinary culture.
Five years ago, a study by BIS Research estimated that the market for fermented foods could be worth $888.76 billion by 2023.
And, for several years now, manufacturers have been working on food innovations populated with "good" bacteria. Take the pickle juice developed specifically for athletes by the American brand Pickle Juice Company, presented at the SIAL international food innovation show in Paris in 2018. Or the Korean brand Ligaro, which transformed its kimchi — an iconic K-cuisine staple based on cabbage and chilies — into jam!
Bacteria can in cosmetic products?
But these microbes aren’t just doing good things to food. They are now increasingly being used in anti-wrinkle creams, moisturizing serums and other products in the beauty toolbox. Cosmetic brands have realized that the fermentation process could be useful in this sector: letting these microscopic organisms proliferate supposedly helps obtain a better concentration of nutrients and antioxidants. In fact, active ingredients are reportedly boosted by the fermentation process. As such, in a recently published report, US market research firm WGSN naturally bet on fermented beauty as a trend that will boom in 2022.
Bacteria are one of the main drivers for the development of biotechnologies with almost infinite applications. Recently, researchers in Quebec have been working on molecules produced by bacteria that can kill... other bacteria. This breakthrough could very well take the form of a future soap. This new-gen version would replace the current detergents or hand sanitizers…
Bacteria can also help turn greenhouse gases into bottles for shampoos or ethanol for perfumes, or even luxury glasses, bags, and sleeves for smartphones and laptops.