The different living organisms that make up a biological system can tell us a lot about the health of their environment. For instance, plankton are very sensitive to changes in their surroundings and can be used as a helpful way to measure water quality and detect signs of pollution. It’s incredible to know that we can learn a lot from the smallest members of an ecosystem! One of those is biological indicators, also cited as bioindicators.
They are essential tools for evaluating the environment’s quality and the changes it undergoes over time. They consist of living organisms such as animals, plants, and microbes and serve to monitor environmental health and its potential impact on human civilization, whether positive or negative. Keep reading to gain a deeper understanding of these environmental tools, their types, and their potential benefits!
What is a Bioindicator?
The role of biological indicators (BI) in microbiology is crucial in determining the effectiveness of sterilization processes. A spore test is another name for these indicators, which contain bacterial spores that are highly resistant to sterilization methods. By subjecting these spores to sterilization processes, microbiologists can ensure that the methods used are effective in eliminating all forms of microbial life.
Types of Bioindicators:
Various organizations are currently utilizing and promoting bioindicators as valuable tools for biomonitoring and assessing human impact. These bioindicators are categorized into multiple types.
1. Animal Indicators:
Frogs are one of the most widely recognized animal bioindicators due to their sensitivity to environmental changes. Their habitats, both in water and on land, greatly affect their well-being. As such, frogs can serve as helpful bioindicators for assessing ecological quality and changes in the environment.
Observing changes in animal populations can also provide valuable insight into the health of the ecosystem. A sudden decrease in population density may suggest negative impacts stemming from pollution or other harmful factors.
The availability of food sources can also impact animal populations, with scarcity leading to reductions in population size. Furthermore, monitoring animal indicators can also signify the presence of toxins within the ecosystem and their potential impact on animal tissues.
2. Plant Indicators:
Plants are effective bioindicators that play a crucial role in determining the health of the environment. With ever-growing industrialization and urbanization, water contamination has become a major concern. However, marine plants offer a unique advantage in providing authentic information about the oceanic environment as they are stationary and quickly adapt to their surroundings.
The presence or absence of specific plants can tell you a lot about environmental conditions. Therefore, plants make a significant contribution to predicting and recognizing environmental stresses.
3. Microbial Indicators:
Aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems typically depend on microorganisms as health indicators. These tiny organisms are abundant, simple to test, and easily accessible. By exposing microorganisms to certain contaminants, such as cadmium and benzene, scientists can detect stress proteins that serve as early warning signs.
In marine ecosystems, microorganisms also play a crucial role in biomass and are responsible for the majority of productivity and nutrient cycling. Microorganisms grow quickly and can respond to even minor changes in physicochemical and biological elements. Thus, these tiny organisms are considered a reliable source of biological indicators.
Testing Procedure of Biological Indicators:
During the testing procedure, a carrier material with bacterial spores resistant to sterilization is used as a biological indicator to ensure safety. The BI is enclosed in a glassine envelope or vial and exposed to the sterilization process. The spores are then incubated under specific conditions to determine if any survived. If no spores grow, the test is considered a pass.
However, if there is any growth detected, the test is considered a failure. It is important to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use when using a biological indicator, regardless of the process or application. This helps to ensure accurate and reliable results in sterile processing.
Benefits of Biological Indicators:
The use of biological indicators is essential for ensuring the effectiveness of the sterilization process for equipment and surgical tools. It is a crucial aspect of the three-pronged approach to monitoring and maintaining the highest level of safety and quality in medical facilities, including surgery centers, dental practices, hospitals, etc.
Sterilization prevents cross-contamination and is considered essential for the proper functioning of the modern healthcare system. It plays a key role in protecting both medical staff and patients.
In sterilizing medical equipment, we must be absolutely certain that everything is operating exactly as it should be. That’s where biological indicators come in. They’re the ultimate way to monitor the sterilization process and make sure everything is up to the mark. They are the gold standard for a reason and are absolutely critical to keeping things safe and effective.
Not all living creatures, processes, or communities can be used as credible bioindicators. Various biological, physical, and chemical factors can differ greatly across different environments. Each population has its own unique techniques for optimizing growth and reproduction, which is commonly known as fitness. When a species is exposed to conditions outside of its ideal range, it may experience adverse effects on its physiology or behavior, ultimately leading to a decrease in its overall fitness.
This decline in fitness can disrupt population dynamics and alter communities. While bioindicators can exhibit moderate tolerance for environmental conditions, some rare species that are either too sensitive or infrequently encountered may not prove to be useful indicators.
The use of bioindicators greatly improves the assessment of the health of biological communities. These tools are abundant, objective, and reproducible, making them highly suitable for use at any level. Despite some limitations, the benefits of bioindicators are extensive and far outweigh any restrictions.
Planktonic monitors, for example, are essential bioindicators in evaluating the general health of water bodies. They provide an all-encompassing assessment of physical, biological, and chemical elements. Moreover, bioindication and biomonitoring have shown significant results in studying the impact of external factors on ecosystems. And distinguishing between polluted and unpolluted areas. Thus, in recent times, bioindicators have become essential in determining the overall well-being of an ecosystem.