If you added up all of the people who have ever died in all the recorded wars in history, a number some scholars estimate to be perhaps 30 million, it would not approach the number of people who have been killed by bacteria. The greatest of destructive technologies are no match for nature’s invisible bugs, the microscopic prokaryotes we call bacteria, which even today manage to kill several million people every year.

Numbers like this make it tempting to think of bacteria as a singularly bad thing. But quite the opposite is true. Bacteria are an integral and vital part of life on the planet, including human life. In fact, bacteria are believed to be the first organisms to develop the capability to use solar energy to make organic compounds. It is thought now that plants actually acquired this capability by capturing bacterial cells, which became their chloroplasts, the organelles that carry out photosynthesis, the ultimate basis of almost every form of life on earth.

So bacteria have been here since the beginning, and it’s little surprise that they can be found virtually everywhere, even within us. There are roughly ten times as many bacterial cells in your body right now as there are human cells, most of which pose no threat, or even aid in the life process. And yet bacteria weren’t even known to exist until 1676, when Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch tradesman and self-taught scientist, first observed them using a magnifying lens of his own design. And it wasn’t until 200 years later that the work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch helped solidify the idea that such germs could be the cause of disease.

Since that time, science has made great strides in the understanding of bacteria, resulting in an arsenal of chemical and radiological weaponry to combat the worst offenders. Nevertheless, bacterial pneumonia, whooping cough, cholera, bacterial meningitis, tetanus, and other bacterial diseases, remain among the world’s greatest killers, taking the lives of millions of people around the world annually, primarily in less developed countries. In addition, bacteria can cause major problems with crops, livestock, and other supportive elements of human life. Even in developed countries, bacteria are seeing a comeback. The modern paranoia about bacteria has led to so many anti-bacterial products that are only partially effective, that bacteria have grown stronger by interacting with them. In addition, the fear of pesticides that has promoted so-called organic foods has resulted in a bacterial presence in food that wasn’t an issue before.

Even though most bacteria are harmless, and in many cases even beneficial, the relative handful of dangerous bacteria continue to challenge our technologies and their application. Part of the problem, of course, is that bacteria are simply hard to see and thus avoid. The presence of potentially problem causing bacteria, in water, food, hospital surfaces, processing plants, or anyplace else, is not an easy thing to detect. A determination usually involves taking a sample and sending it off to a suitable laboratory, where it is cultured and grown, and then analyzed by trained technicians. It can take days or even weeks to get an answer, and there is a cost. As a result, an endless amount of unnecessary contamination occurs, in this country and around the world.

Although giant pharmaceutical companies remain the biggest players in the war against bacteria, one of the most unique breakthroughs in the science of bacterial detection and identification belongs to a little company out of San Clemente, California called Micro Identification Technology (OTCBB: MMTC). The company has developed a way to identify 23 different species of pathogenic bacteria, just minutes after completed culturing. In addition, because the required sample is so small, the culturing time itself is also cut in half. The bottom line is much faster processing, at a tiny fraction of the normal cost.

It’s all done by laser light that is scattered off bacteria cells suspended in water, creating light patterns that are unique for each species. The company’s proprietary software quickly analyzes the patterns to come up with a determination. Analysis can be done on-site by standard personnel, reducing or eliminating the need to ship samples off to laboratories.

Other publicly traded small-cap companies involved in the battle of the bug include the following:

• Tasker Products Corp. (PINKSHEETS: TKER) – Engages in the manufacture, distribution, and marketing of products using its patented pHarlo technology, a process that inhibits bacteria growth.
• PolyMedix Inc. (OTCBB: PYMX) – Uses a proprietary computational platform to design molecules that mimic the activity of proteins, a different approach to fighting drug-resistant bacteria.
• Rad Source Technologies Inc. (PINKSHEETS: IRAD) – Develops non-nuclear irradiation products to kill bacteria and other microbes for a variety of applications.
• Nuvilex Inc. (OTCBB: NVLX) – Creates all-natural health and lifestyle products, including Citroxin, an eco-friendly antibacterial disinfectant.
• Food Technology Service Inc. (NASDAQ: VIFL) – Provides gamma radiation services for various food and non-food anti-bacterial and sterilization applications.

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