Thursday, December 8, 2011


If I am not mistaken, this is the second time when the possibility of using algae in biotechnology exploitation is receiving massive publicity. In the early seventies the focus is more in the production of SCP or single cell protein for animal feed. Nowadays, there is more talk about getting biofuel from the algal cells.
In theory this is a good idea as algal cells in the presence of light used photosynthesis to use carbon dioxide and release oxygen. In return not only you get the spin off benefits which are not only environmental friendly but even produce products as the substrate for fermentation to generate energy. It is simply a great ‘win- win’ situation for all.
However, in reality things are simply not as easy as it looks. From the point of mass culturing of the algal cells we have to depend on special bioreactors or fomenters called photo bioreactors. It is the kind of bioreactor where the algal culture are grown and mixed or circulated under conditions of light source to illuminate the algal culture for its source of energy.
The problems of bioreactors are clearly more seen at the level of scale up or using industrial size photobioreactors
At a large scale there are going to be problems faced in photo bioreactors. As we know the ideal photobioreactor is to get well mixed condition that encourage mass transfers. It is clear that there will be problems faced due to the lack of mechanical stirrers to carry out this job.
Using mechanical stirrers might create problems of shear forces which can break up the algal cells.
There is also the problem of supplying carbon dioxide mass transfers to supply to the algal cells at the scale of large photobioreactors
Light penetration into the medium is a real engineering biochallenge. Algal cell as suspended solids tend to block the penetration of light to all the algal cells.
The medium used for the algal cultivation must also clear enough to allow light penetration while at the same time provide nutrients to the algal cells
Sad to say, despite the potential or promises that algal cells can be used for biofuel it is still basically studies carried on laboratory scale and require a lot more research and heavy capital investments
Just because you are living in the sunny tropical country doesn’t always guarantee that the cultivation of algal cell by photo bioreactors is practical!!!

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Monday, November 28, 2011


Due to the popularity of subjects like biotechnology, microbiology, bioprocess engineering, there are now many public and private universities offering such courses. Most of these courses or degrees have fermentation technology as a subject in their degree.
But if we bother to surf the websites for additional information and curricula on fermentation technology, we will find that despite the universality of the subject the syllabus varies and so are their fermentation technology facilities.
Some of the laboratories seemed so empty and lacking serious equipments!!!
Surprisingly in most of these universities they do not have sufficient or even fermenters. The practicals or subject of fermentation technology is more a food microbiology course with practicals involving alcoholic fermentation or tapai
What is even more disturbing is the basic subjects needed to do fermentation technology vary. Either the department has no idea what is the basic subject requirement for the fermentation technology course or that they just try to fit any existing subjects into the course. Whether these subjects are relevant is secondary
I often wonder how the division in the education ministry in charge of ensuring the quality of the degrees gives the approval for these courses.
The tragic thing is that most students will not be able to learn fully the subject and even if they worked in the industries they will be laughed at….by their sheer ignorance of the subject.
So don’t blame anyone if they become pseudo fermentation technologists as they are taught by pseudo lecturers and pseudo departments in fermentation technology

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Sunday, November 27, 2011


Many food fermentation industries are facing the problem of when is the right time to terminate a fermentation process and how to terminate the fermentation process?. A fermentation process will keep going on and on until the substrate runs out or there are changes which occur in the fermenting food product which will lead to the slowing down and even the cessation of the fermentation process.
In many food and beverage fermentation once the desired fermentation product is achieved in terms of its nutritional, organo leptic properties, the fermentation broth or the product need to undergo downstream activities such as bottling and repackaging the product.
If the fermentation product is liquid or contain water, there is possibility that even after repackaging or bottling the fermentation process in the bottle or package might still continue. In view of this the continuing fermentation process might still continue changing the biochemical characteristics of the products.
In situation like this how the fermented product is kept under low temperature is important. It is important that the expiry date is adhered to
Then why don’t we just terminate the fermentation process itself? This is easier said than done. The question is how do we terminate the fermentation process? Will the process affect the quality of the fermentation product itself?
Many of the industries producing the fermentation products keep the secret of their fermentation process. Its not so much of the microorganism but the strains it used. They are not keen in allowing their strains in the fermentation products be released to public for free by just buying a few cents of yogurt.
It is important in their case that the strains used will die or becomes non viable once the fermentation is completed. How they do this is their trade secret. However a good microbiologist will be able to reisolate the strain 
Most of the fermentation process is ‘terminated’ by a few available technology such as manipulating the temperature or even using chemicals to inhibit the fermenting microorganisms without affecting the fermentation products.

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Friday, November 25, 2011


The small cottage industries producing fermented foods are facing their greatest challenges today. Not only they have to face the shrinking market due to competition from bigger or medium size fermentation industries, but they are also facing the barriers and limitations enforced by health and GMP. They have no choice that in order to survive they have to expand their market and even going global
However, being in the traditional fermentation industries, small in size and output they lack the capital support and even the scientific technical expertise to ensure their survival. Traditional fermentation cottage industries too are recalcitrant to changes, still practicing the same method of production of their ancestors
They can survive as they are now but they will not be able to expand their market and will always retain their small niche in the market.
Only by increasing their size of production, improving their fermentation process technology can they hope to compete successfully
There are few possibilities they can do to survive:
1 Pooling together of resources by cooperatives to increase the volume of fermented food
2By forming a consortium they can afford to improve their fermentation facilities and employ food scientists to optimize their production
3 pooling together will allow them to invest in expensive scientific equipment and improve their technology of production
4 pooling together will eliminate competition among themselves and instead form a synergy to compete with bigger players
5 pooling together will allow them to acquire transportation to distribute wider their goods and increase the market
They should realize that the big industry players were once small cottage fermentation industries like them but they are willing to risk and take the step further

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Thursday, November 24, 2011


It is generally accepted that educational visits to fermentation factories formed part and parcel of the course in fermentation technology. The objectives of the visits are more towards appreciating and reinforcing the understanding of fermentation technology being applied from what is learned in the lecture halls and the laboratories to real life situations in the fermentation industries
On one hand the visits by colleges and universities are often welcomed by the factories as it forms part of the public relations image and good marketing strategy. It also help to contribute positively to the education of fermentation technology.
However on the other hand, such visits are often regarded as ‘irritation’ to the factory management as there may be ‘secrets’ to hide from the probing eyes and minds of the visitors. The fear of being discovered in coveringcertain aspects of the production process could be disastrous especially nowadays with the ease of information being disseminate through the internet
The fermentation are happier if the visits for the fermentation technology students are the usual ‘walk and pass through’ sessions with little or no probing into the intimate details of the fermentation process. It is not often in their best interests to ‘tell all’ the details of the fermentation process.
So often it is not surprising the information given to the fermentation technology students are the same given to the public, school students and even the kindergarten students!
All will be happy with the visit where they will be served refreshments and ‘goody’packages containing samples of the fermentation products
But sadly, this is not benefitting to the fermentation technology students. Thy came there to visit, to understand and to learn.
In situations like this the fermentation technology students visiting the factories must be prepared to ask important aspects of the fermentation technology that is applied into the industrial process.
It is ideal before the visits are carried out the lecturer in charge brief the students what to expect and the questions that they should be looking into. At the end of the day detailed reports should be submitted to be examined.
In such cases the class should be divided into sub groups to look into various aspects of the fermentation process and the results combined together

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In any fermentation industry, if you are going to carry out a fermentation project it will have to be profitable or at least showing the potential of profitability. Fermentation industries are not charitable organizations that can carry out fermentation research for the purpose of esoteric activity. Money simply does not grow on trees and they have to account for their success or failures to the share holders. Esoteric research can only be carried out in public funded research institutes and universities where financial auditing is not strict and almost unaccountable (at least in this country)
Two of the weakest links in fermentation research here is that:
1 The scientists are very quick to extrapolate the profitability based on incomplete small scale research. This is risky since no scale up studies are properly carried out to test the technical viability of the process
2 They failed to audit the fermentation viability in terms of cost inputs but rather talk about potential market price. This is really a recipe for disaster! A lot of fermentations could be economically non viable if proper financial auditing is carried out
Do not talk about counting the chickens before they are hatched…it is just as good as a pipe dream!
If proper studies are carried out on the costings you might even see the project failure while still on paper
One of the most critical factors influencing the cost of fermentation is cost of energy. In the fermentation industries energy in the form of electrical power are required in so many steps of the fermentation flow
You need energy for heating, cooling, sterilizing, pumping, aerating, stirring and many more. So this must be considered as energy is a limited commodity and will increase in cost in future. Have these factors been thoroughly considered and taken into account before declaring to the world we have the technology to convert biomass to wealth by fermentation?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011


In the recent BioMalaysia 2011, much attention has been given to the pictures of Prime Minister of Malaysia listening to the briefing and observing one of the exhibits which is the equsains airlift culture. The culture vessel is the product of University Sains Malaysia.
My curiosity is aroused leading me to learn more from the Pecipta exhibition conducted among the universities in Malaysia
The following is the description of the vessel as extracted direcly from the Pecipta:
Top Airlift Plant Propogation Culture Vessel was designed to provide proper contact and sufficient aeration between the culture and the liquid medium, all in a vesselto enhance better growth in an aseptic condition.
The aeration is provided via a 0.2 urn membrane through a glass tube at the lid and the cultures will be well aerated by the formation of fine air bubbles at the end of 4 funnel-shaped filters that are placed near the base of the culture vessel.
The excess air will be removed via a glass vent attached to the lid.
It is a very versatile system and can be used for the propagation of any plant species as long as the proliferation culture medium for that particular plant species is established. This portable culture vessel could be easily used and placed anywhere as long as there is a light source.
On reading in detail of the invention I was overwhelmed by the positive attributes associated with the use of the culture vessel such as the higher yield of plantlets obtained within a shorter period compared to normal plant culture
There seems to be no flaws or no reports with the problems and limitations of using the equisains culture vessel. This is indeed amazing! As through my years of doing fermentation technology, there are many problems associated with the use of bioreactors or fermentors
There was no elaboration on the problems of sterilization, microbial contamination of the broth or cultures and how the process of inoculation, monitoring of the fermentation or the media used to support the growth of the plant tissues
The points raised are:
1 is the culture vessel autoclaved and can it withstand the repeated autoclaving as the vessel is made of glass
2Will continuous exposure of the vessel result in microbial growth that is photosynthetic?
3 How are the aseptic transfers and inoculation of the vessel carried out?
4 What is the likelihood of contaminations in such vessels?
5 Is the aseptic condition stringent throughout the period of growth?

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Monday, November 21, 2011


It’s that time of the year again, when Malaysia showcases its ‘achievements’ in biotechnology. And it seems that this year event is no better than the previous similar events. A lot of hypes, great booths, smart name tags and a lot of hot air. It lacks the presence of renowned international biotechnology experts but overflow with relatively unknown speakers who seem to be keener in ‘advertising’ or ‘marketing’ their companies or products
On the local scene, the speakers or chair persons are more known as heads of departments rather than respected authorities in their own field in biotechnology. I don’t know whether this is more public relation exercise in buttering up certain departments or ministries in the government or its acceptance of the invitation to improve their CV
I have found the titles of the paper presented generally as ‘feel good ‘ papers laced with promises, potentials and not discussing problems and barriers that will be barriers to the commercialization.
It is interesting in this note that Kevin Keebung Rhee in his paper “From Bio Facility to Production” brought out the problems that will be faced in realizing these biotechnological dreams or endeavours
In such important gatherings it is important that the credibility be established from presentations of serious scientific discoveries rather than repacking old wine in new bottles or giving stories from La La Land

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011


It is funny to observe the human behavior. When we say it is FERMENTED food they are willing to consume it eagerly. Yet if we tell them the same food as DECOMPOSED food, they will probably ignore or reject it.
Face the fact, fermentation process is a natural decomposition process which occurs naturally. While it is true in certain ways it is food preservation, the process has to a degree involved decomposition or metabolic transformation
The food preservation aspect is the result of the fermented products such as lactic or acetic acid which prevents the growth of other microorganisms that may enhanced decomposition. Or it could be the effect of high salt which prevent the growth of the other organisms.
The ability to preserve the fermented food is one of the challenges in the fermentation food industries. Too short a shelf life will make it difficult to store the fermented food or limit its availability for safe human consumption.
In cases of certain fermented food attempts to improve the shelf life of the products usually require the manipulation of low temperature or refrigeration combined with high quality packaging. But then again such a system could at best slow down the process of food spoilage and extend to a limit the shelf life of the fermented food. A good case is in the production and transportation and storage of milk based fermented foods
In extending the shelf life of the fermented food is not so much the issue. What is important is that changes that occur with the extended shelf life should not affect the quality and presentation of the fermented products!
This is the problem of marketing fermented foods which limit the volume of its production and the area of its distribution
Modern fermented foods have heavy inputs from food engineering and technology. Ingredients and other additives are frequently added to improve the quality and shelf life of fermented products
But this is only applicable in modern food fermentation industries but not at the level of traditional or small scale food industries

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Monday, October 31, 2011


One of the greatest nightmares in the fermentation industries is the fear of microbial contamination outbreak. Such outbreaks will not only mean financial disasters due to the loss of product and costly fermentation media but also problems of disposing the contaminated fermentation media which are generally rich in nutrients and are very polluting. There is also the fear that the fermentation products not only resulted in decrease of volume and concentration but could be hazardous to human health! This might lead to liability cases which might run into millions of dollars! Its simply a lose – lose situation in microbial contamination strikes the fermentation plant!
Removing or reducing the number of unwanted microbes is a big issue. If you don’t remove the microorganisms it will affect the fermentation process. To make it even harder, all those residual nutrients could support the growth of the contaminating microorganisms. So the issue is not only removing the microbes but removing the remnant nutrients as well.
To clean and remove the offending microbes and nutrients we have to reach almost every surface, nook and cranny. This activity is not only restricted to the fermentor but all inlets leading to or from the fermentors. And this is not easy as it is difficult to reach those far reaching hidden places to effectively clean and sanitise the system. This problem is accentuated by poor design of the fermentation system which protects and even helps in the propagation of the contaminants.
We can look at the problem of fermentor sanitation from the point of:
1 Materials used for the fermentation system
2 Finishing of surfaces
3 Design of fermentation system
4 Sanitary fittings
The cleaning process is a harsh process in terms of the effect of the cleaning chemicals on the surfaces as well the effect of physical removal of dirt and slime from the fermentation surfaces. The materials used to build the fermentation system must be able to with stand the treatment.
Stainless steel is often the choice as not only its being inert and do not react with the cleaning chemicals but also with the fermentation process
The surface finish is of great importance. It is often said the smoother the surface the less chance for the contaminants to stick. This would make cleaning easier and efficient.
In reality if you look under microscope even the smoothest finishing is rough and provides refuge for the microbes to survive the cleaning surface. So even though smoother surface is better but it is not a guarantee.
What is more important is the cleanability or the ease of cleaning the surface for effective cleaning
The design of fermentor systems should not encourage the presence of inaccessible areas for microbes to survive and propagate. Dead legs or dead spaces should be eliminated or minimized. Threaded screws should be avoided as it could backfire in providing refuge instead of preventing the entry of microbes. Valves and pumps should be simple in design and easily disassembled for CIP procedures.
The cleaning of fermentation systems should be based more on the understanding of the behavior of the microbes and a more integrative holistic approach should help in maintaining sanitary conditions of fermentation system

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Most visitors coming for a visit to the Istana Lama seems to be unaware of the various symbolisms and culture associated with the Istana Lama. They come, take photographs and have a whirl wind tour of the Istana Lama which is now a museum and was before the King’s residence.
It is generally accepted that the design of the palace was based on 99 pillars which represents the famous warriors of the state and even the various districts of the state
Most were quite satisfied by just visiting the first floor or at most the second floor. There are very few information available, no pamphlets, no guides. It feels just like an ordinary boring visit, just old pictures that adorn the walls.
The centre piece of the visit seems to be the main dining table where the King used to have dinners or entertain guests and dignitaries.
If we analyse the structure and function of the Istana Lama, it shows a hierarchy in the vertical structure. You will see that the first floor is open to public where the King receives his guests or where there are official ceremonies in little halls.
The second floor is dedicated to the family of the King complete with separate bedrooms for their children
The third and the fourth floor are in fact just small room. The room on the third floor is meant for the private use of the King. More interesting is the fact the fourth floor room is above the third floor room which is above the King’s room.
What is the function of the top most room? It is given a special status to be even above the King’s room? Usually the King being the supreme head is symbolically given the highest or top most room.
The fourth floor room is officially stated as the place where they keep the ‘heritage treasures’ of the state. What heritage treasures?. It was even erroneously stated that the fourth floor room was the ‘study room’ for the ruler
Many would find it difficult to believe of the tales or stories associated with the fourth floor room. Many years ago we took the opportunity to see the room. We saw a bed in the corner of the room and an incense burner for burning the kemenyan. Legend has it though no one stays there, there were signs that the bed has been used nightly and that the bed is made up every day. The question who or what is sleeping on the bed? Definitely not the King as he stays most times in Seremban or in the modern big palace nearby
What is even more interesting is the design of the steps leading to the third floor room and the fourth floor room is very steep and narrow. Is the design of the steps made to prevent access to other members of the palace?

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Saturday, October 22, 2011


Judging from the list of the most popular articles, the topics of scaling up and scaling down seems to be the most favoured among the readers. The only conclusions I can derived from such popularity is that either most readers do not know or the topics of scaling up or there is a lack of good books or courses on the topics.
In my opinion, not many practitioners are willing to share their experiences on scaling up and scaling down due to its huge practical importance in industrial fermentations. The understanding of scaling up and scaling down is derived more through trials and errors and earned the hardway that constitute valuable experience.
A brief perusal on the topic in biochemical engineering and biotechnology books are quite lightly covered. It is more a theoretical in approach and highlighting the importance of scale of size, volume magnitudes and sustaining in the constancy of values such as power, impeller speed and dissolved oxygen.
They never really teach you the right approach or the essential steps in doing scaling up. They are more obsessed with size and geometry of fermentors.
In reality the subject of scaling up is not straight and easy . There are many other factors specific to a particular fermentation studied. That is why you have to find your way in doing the scaling up. This can only be achieved if you have done extensive work on the fermentation process that will yield sufficient data to help plan the next step in the scaling up. These lab data are very useful in extrapolating the direction of your scaling up and determining the size and number of size increase you need to do
You cannot do scaling up just by dumping in fermentors of different size or with similar geometry.
That is why before you do scaling up, you need to know holistically the fermentation process in question. If you don’t do this approach it will just be a study in futility yielding data which are of no values in industrial fermentation

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One of the significant steps to prevent microbial contaminations in industrial fermentation systems is keeping the fermentation systems clean not only from the presence of residues of fermentation but from the presence of unwanted microorganisms.
Effective sterilizations could only be achieved by first cleaning the fermentation systems. Proper cleaning of the fermentation systems require in depth study and understanding the structure and behavior of the properties of the foulings
Only by understanding these prerequisites can you develop cleaning regimes which are specific to the process in mind. This will not only give you effective sterilizations but even save you money in terms of chemicals used in cleaning, lower labour costs and less downtime. It will also give you assurance that your fermentation processes will be free from contaminations
Cleaning the fermentation systems is not as easy as it looks. There are dirts and particles which you cannot see with your naked eyes. Seeing it is ‘clean’ does not always mean its really clean.
The problems faced in cleaning the fermentation systems are:
1 How to detect the biofoulings
2 Methods to detect presence of microbes or its by products on surfaces
3 Looking for inaccessible places where its difficult to remove them
4 Using the right cleaning technology
5 Validating that the cleaning process have been really carried out
In the fermentation industries we are dealing the problems of cleaning at the level of microscopic or nano level. Surfaces exposed to dirt and contaminants occur microscopic level. What appears as a smooth shiny surface could under microscopic observation be rough and craggy giving protection and attachment to the microbes. It is not easy to remove such hidden microbes in the conventional way
Mot of the biofoulings are biofilms which have thick exopolysaccharide to protect the cells. Thus using chemicals does not always guarantee the removal of the cells
Sometimes you need special tools to observe the fouling such as using lights of different wavelength that can detect proteins and other metabolites
The use of wrong biocide regime could instead of removing the biofilm cause it to produce thick biofilms. This is contrary to the purpose
Proper research need to be done at laboratory level to determine the right cleaning regime before the method is applied

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Friday, October 21, 2011


In nature,microbes generally do not occur as individual independent cells. There is the tendency for the microbes to form colonies or aggregates. One form of microbial aggregates commonly found in nature and in fermentation industries are the formation of microbial film or biofoulings.
It is not difficult to understand why microbial films occur especially in systems which provide surfaces for the attachment of the microbes. Other requirements include the presence of water and nutrients. It is only a matter of time when fresh surfaces will be colonized by the microbes or the surfaces undergo biofoulings.
In the fermentation industries the above requirements are easily met. The fermentation systems have lots of surfaces to be colonized by the microbes ranging from the surfaces of fermentors to the various valves and pipes servicing the fermentor
The presence of these biofoulings can constitute serious problems that affect the efficiency of the fermentation industries such as:
1 Microbial induced corrosion, biofouling of probes, sensors and electrodes
2 Pipe cloggings resulting in reduce flow
3 Heat exchangers
4 Microbial contaminations of the fermentation process
5 Wear and tear of pumps
6 Higher energy usage and repairs
7 Loss if downtime of fermentors in repairing and cleaning the biofoulings
All of these factors contributing to increase in costs!!
Preventing and solving the problems of biofoulings in fermentation industries is therefore crucial to the fermentation process

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My, oh my! The local universities are back again offering some sort of fermentation technology workshop. What attract me in the recent brochure is the workshop on fermentor design and scaling up to be carried over four days.
The syllabus is nothing new and in fact never really delves into the ‘twists and turns’ of scaling up studies. Or could I have misread it? Maybe it’s the kind of course for general laymen such as ‘Fermentation technology for Dummies’ series?
Scaling up is a very difficult component in any fermentation technology course ! You could not cover it in just a few hours.
Honestly I cant help feeling the possibility of the participants being taken for a ride.
The only good thing I see in the brochure is that it is dirt cheap, where you only pay about RM 200 per day which includes course materials. Laboratory and refreshments such as breakfasts and lunch.
The added bonus is perhaps you will get a certificate of attendance and a good holiday!
My best wishes to the participants and enjoy the holidays!

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Thursday, October 20, 2011


In the field of fermentation technology, the importance of sampling of samples right from upstream to downstream activities could not be more emphasized. It is from the analyses and measurement of the samples obtained that we derived data or valuable information which tell us about the state of the fermentation process. These data helps us in making decision by analyzing and extrapolating. It might even tell us where, when and how problems developed in the fermentation systems
The processing of the data obtained could even be enhanced further by applying graphics, statistics to even modeling the system so that we will have full control of the fermentation process.
Despite such immense importance of the contribution of samples to the understanding of the process, the desired impact might be erroneous or even negated by not understanding the process of sampling completely.If not done properly any data obtained from the samples and sampling could lead to the wrong conclusions and wrong decisions. This does not even take into considerations the loss of time, money, labour of the company.
In many years of experience in teaching, research and consultations, it is sad for me to conclude that many if not most involved in the field of fermentation technology regarded sampling as a trivial activity and have that couldn’t careless attitude. Their ignorance and lack of understanding of the purpose and factors affecting the sampling process have resulted in the wrong data and wrong decisions that affect the company productivity and efficiency
Again, this might be a syndrome of fear of admitting self ignorance of the subject or being recalcitrant in trying to learn new things despite being expert in the field of fermentation technology
In most if not all fermentation technology courses or textbooks, references to sampling is so brief and too theoretical. Most just cover the definition or explanation of the characteristics of the different type of samplings from off line, on line and in line sampling. There is no real in depth discussion and limitations of good sampling. There is a lack of application of the subject and its importance.
Suffice to say, this has led to the weakness of the students or lack of appreciation of sampling in fermentation system. One good example not often covered is the reliability in sampling systems and analysers

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011


One of the two most common terms used in fermentation technology or fermentation industries is SIP or Steaming In Place; the other term being CIP or Cleaning in Place. While the two terms are often used, many find its confusing in its applications.
CIP refers more to the cleaning, washing and removal of residues or products from the surfaces of the fermentation apparatus, while SIP refers more to the actual sterilization of the fermentor and its processes using steam. However SIP may have the added bonus of cleaning the process and may constitute as part of CIP
In both processes of SIP and CIP, the most common feature is that the two processes are often carried out with little or non dismantling of the fermentation system. It is a fact that it is not easy to dismantle the fermentation systems and then to put it all back again. Lots of labour, time and costs may be incurred in dismantling. However in terms of efficiency of cleaning and sterilization it is more thorough and efficient
Why SIP when you can sterilize using autoclaves? The answer is that the use of autoclaves is quite restricted in situation where the size of the fermentation system such as in industrial fermentation is too large. Using of hot dry steam in SIP sterilization is more efficient and convenient than autoclaves. You can transport and guide the hot steam even in the most difficult and inaccessible places such as piping and hard to reach areas.
Using steam is amenable to manipulation and not so much restricted by the limitation of surface area to volume of fermentors. A good example is in the frequent use of steam injection into the fermentation broth
In using steam as SIP component we need to know the properties of steam. This refers to the quality of steam. In certain situations the steam produced must be filtered with microfilter to ensure the entrance of unwanted particles, organic or inorganic! In such situation the boiler used to generate the steam for SIP must be dedicated
The steam must be produced using boilers and it is important to control the steam pressure by the use of valves, pressure gauges It is important too that the heat loss of steam must be minimized by proper piping
The steam piping needs to be insulated and lagged with material. The cleanliness of the steam must be maintained by the use of proper material such as stainless steel or teflon

The transformation of the steam into its liquid condensate must be properly addressed. This is not easy as we must try to release the condensate without losing the hot steam
The piping must be able to withstand the harsh condition of steam pressure of about 20 psi and temperature of 121 -125 degrees centigrade
The presence of airlocks must be avoided. Since air is a poor conductor of heat, the presence of airlocks will reduce the efficiency of steam heating

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Most fermentation technology graduates are generally pissed off when in their first exposure as attachment students in fermentation industries they are asked to clean floors and fermentors. In their view such a job is so demeaning of their status. In the hierarchy of jobs in the fermentation industries, the job of a cleaner is often looked down upon.
Yet, it is in my opinion it is the most important and responsible job. Cleaning or sanitizing the fermentors or production floors is a very skilled and skilled job. Not only have they taught you discipline and hard work but also the start of understanding the industry from bottom up.
Cleaning the fermentor and the production floor is not identical as cleaning an office or some other janitorial jobs. You are not only trying to keep the place and equipments clean by being methodological and thorough but also in preventing contamination of the plant.
Poor cleaning or sanitizing can cost the fermentation industries great losses.
Once you are expert in cleaning you will begin to appreciate the asepticity of the system and also weak links in the route of the microbial contamination
So you should try to appreciate the opportunity of this ‘demeaning’ skill and do a good job at it!

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It might surprise many to learn that the cleanliness or sanitary conditions of certain fermentation plants or its production floor as being cleaner even compared to the cleanliness of surgical rooms. Of course this statement doesn’t apply to all types of fermentation industries!
By being clean requires a lot of investment in terms of labour, cost and loss of downtime in fermentor operation. However the benefits derived from being clean far outweigh the investments cost. In fact being clean is in most cases part of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)
A fermentation plant which is not clean will generate numerous problems ranging from poor quality control of the process to even loss of production due to microbial contamination. It is not a random activity or do as you like attitude in trying to be clean or sanitized. Most fermentation plants require skill operators just to clean the plant. And it is not easy cleaning the fermentation plant as you have not only to clean the fermentors but even the production floors, walls and many other surfaces.
Most of these cleaning activities are complex and require Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) which must not only be adhered to but validated. Any inefficient cleaning will likely be a source of future problems in the fermentation industries.
Cleaning process is basically removing the dirt or contaminating particles. In most cases it is not easy to see these dirty particles with our naked eyes and might even require special advance analytical tools to detect the dirt. Some of these dirty particles are hidden and so inaccessible to normal cleaning procedures that it will always remain in the nooks, corners and crevices. What is even more challenging this dirt is so microscopic and can even hide itself under protective surfaces
As we have said before the danger of not cleaning could be the cause of recurring infection of the fermentation process. To make things worst the remnants of improper cleaning could result in residues of organic particles such as traces of the fermentation broth that not only help in protect the microbial contaminants from the effect of cleaning activities but even support or provide nutrients for further proliferation of the microbial contaminants.
Biofouling of surfaces due to improperly cleaned surfaces could result in many engineering problems such as microbial corrosion ans loss of heat transfers which will ultimately add to the operational cost of the fermentation plant.
So it is wiser if in the first place that cleaning of the fermentation plant be carried out efficiently to prevent secondary problems arising in the later stages!

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Being the owner of this fermentation technology blog, I have the opportunity to analyse the data or some surprises that show not only the interests of the blog readers but also the problems they are facing in the understanding the field of fermentation technology.
With currently over 50,000 unique visitors and more than 80,000 pageload activity the conclusions or observations of the blog readers warrant some serious considerations.
Firstly even though the prime intention of this blog is to promote exchange of ideas and discussions among the various people involved in fermentation technology, it is sad to see that most visitors to this blog are more interested in getting ‘free information’ without trying to contribute to the over all well being and understanding of the field of fermentation technology.
Secondly, it is sad to observe that most of the blog readers seems to be lacking the basic understanding of the fermentation technology process. Is this attributed to the poor understanding of the subject by the students or the failure of the College or university lecturers to teach properly the subject of fermentation technology?
The purpose I am having this blog is not so much as trying to teach the students as they should be getting enough of the subjects from books, lectures and laboratory practicals. My intention is to encourage deeper thought on aspect of the subject and to look at the subject from a different perspective so as to give a deeper insight or perspective on the subject.
I have received many emails mostly commenting on the stereo approach of subject as taught by their lecturers or taking notes directly from standard textbooks. The students complained of the lack of hands on or problem approach to the subject. They just were not shown from how the subjects can be applied. In certain instances it is a sin to ask the salesmen who sell the fermentors to teach the students! Is it this predicament associated with little or no knowledge of their lecturers to understand the subject?
Time and again too much stress are given to the yeast growth curve in fermentors ( conical flasks) without knowing the applications or implications
It is such a tragedy as the subject of fermentation technology is so vast and goes beyond plotting growth curve or producing ethanol!

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Soy sauce fermentation is one of the traditional fermentation which was introduced into Malaysia with the influx of Chinese immigrants. With the coming of the Chinese immigrants they brought along with them not only their cultures but also their fermentation technology to make soy sauce or kicap.
The traditional soy sauce fermentation is not really an active fermentation industry but considered more as a passive fermentation industry that rely on low technology. Of course now these traditional technology are slowly being transformed or phase out by the assimilation of modern fermentation technology to be economical and competitive.
What ever the soy sauce produced by the traditional fermentation technology is far more superior in its organo leptic properties and much sought after.
You know when you are in close proximity of the traditional soy sauce fermentation factory. You can smell the unmistakable heavy earthy and salty smell emanating from the various vats that hold the fermenting soy sauce at different stages of the soy sauce fermentation.
If you approach closer you will see rows and rows of earthen fermentation vats containing the fermenting soy sauce exposed to the light and temperature of the searing sun. And it would be a good opportunity to see workers rushing to close the lids of the exposed fermenting vats once they suspect the rain is coming. Sounds of the lids being placed back on the vats sounds more like a orchestra of clashing cymbels
If you look close enough into the fermenting vats you will see thick layer of cooked soya bean cakes floating on the surface of the fermenting broth in various stages of organic decomposition
It is not uncommon due to the strong flavor and smell emanating from the vats to attract numerous unwanted ‘visitors’ ranging from flies to even other animals. Maybe they do contribute to the taste?
In theory the process of making soy sauce is simple but it takes a long fermenting period. Good soy sauce could not be hastened in its fermentation
A good description of how soy sauce fermentation is carried out could be seen in the following url:

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Too much and too many have been said about the wonders of milk fermentation. The media is over whelmed by the goodness derived out of milk fermentation such nutrients, vitamins and digestibility as associated with yogurt.
Yet dangers lurk in milk fermentation especially if the milk fermentation is not carried out properly, contaminated or even consumed after its expiry date. Just how many of us have taken seriously the expiry date notice that is written on the labels?
As we know it milk is a very wholesome and nutritious food. It is not only good for the humans and cows that drink the milk but also it is a wonderful food that is rich and nutrients and can support a lot of fastidious or fussy microorganisms.
While it is true in most modern milk fermentation industries there are controls to prevent microbial contamination, it should also be noted that the actions taken do not really guarantee that the fermented milk is safe.
In most of these modern milk fermentation industries there are steps to reduce or kill the unwanted microbial contaminants. Most of it involved the use of heat to sterilize the milk components. But in reality it is no guarantee. Pasteurisation is not a fool proof method to prevent microbial contamination. The use of high temperature for a long time could in itself denature and spoil the nutritive values of the milk
While still in fermentation the milk could be contaminated by process failures or even poor sanitary conditions of the production floor or poor sanitary conditions of the fermentation plant.
The situation is even more critical in small cottage industries where they lack proper facilities to sample and detect and control the contamination by the unwanted microbes. Although it is recommended that such milk fermentation products be kept in a cold temperature, it is possible that some of the fermented milk products continue carrying the fermentation process resulting in the changes in the biochemical environment such as the ph which could no longer protect the milk fermentation products of its microbe suppressing activity.
At best it can be said drink your fermented milk as soon as possible!

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Monday, October 17, 2011


Two traditional fermentations which are popular and in demand are fish sauce (budu) and soy sauce (kicap) fermentation. Both these fermentations produce products which are used as condiments in a variety of asian dishes.
The setback of these two types of fermentations are that:
1 They take a long time to undergo the fermentation transformations from substrate to products
2 They occupy a lot of land space to hold the large number of fermentation vats
These two considerations could translate to increase costs such as labour and processing which would be added to the costs
The solution to these two types of fermentation would have to depend on such factors such shortening the fermentation time, so that the facilities could carry out more fermentations and recycling the use of the fermentation vats.
It will also reduce the need for a large area to carry out the fermentation process
These objectives could be achieved by accelerating the fermentation process such as:
1 Using enzymes to speed up the hydrolyses of the fermentation substrates
2 Using specialized cultures or inocula that will hasten the fermentation process
3 Having modern fermentation vats that are easily monitored and control
The proposed approaches might accelerate the fermentation process but at the expense of the organo leptic properties or the bouquet of the fermentation products. The fermentation products produced by such rapid methods might not be identical to the original traditional fermentation products.
In view of this problems more research are needed to understand the biochemical and microbiological changes that occur in traditional and accelerated fermentation

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Saturday, October 15, 2011


One of the most favorite traditional food condiments in Malaysia especially in Kelantan is the use of budu. Budu is a form of fermented fish sauce which is derived by the fermentation of fish such as anchovies.
Similar fish fermentation products are to be found in many Asian countries. Differences might be in the type of fishes they used as the fermentation substrate or conditions of the fermentation
The end products of the fish fermentation is the fish sauce which are popularly used to add taste to cooking or even as dipping sauce
In budu fish sauce fermentation it is more considered a protein fermentation rather than a carbohydrate fermentation. Thus the type of fermentation end products differs.
Whatever the fermentation products is it is very important that the characteristics or the taste and smell of the fermentation products be preserved or sustained
I find it strange in the case of budu fermentation that at the end of the fermentation process when the rich supernatant is obtained, it is subjected to high boiling temperature
Now, heating is important in any fermentation process. Its application can be positive or negative depending on purpose, when and where and the exposure of the heat. The use of improper heating might for all defeat the purpose or the characteristics of the fermentation products.
We all know in general fermentation products are volatile and short chain carbon compounds. Applying heat in an inefficient way could result in the loss of aroma and flavours of the fermentation products. So we might get just a rich salty broth which is nutritionally not good but ideal for raising your high blood pressure!
The question now is whether it is really necessary to boil the fish sauce and if so what are the best alternatives of applying the heat with minimum damage to the fish sauce?

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Thursday, October 13, 2011


Diversity of fermentation products has always been the hall mark of Malaysian culture. Almost everywhere we go we are exposed to various types of fermentation food and beverages. In part such diversity is the result of the input and fusion of various races and cultures into what is constitute as Malaysians. This fermentation diversity is enhanced by the diversity of substrates available for fermentation and the variations in the fermentation process carried out by the various races.
However, one of the weakest links in the production of these traditional food and beverages is the reluctance to use modern fermentation technology for a more efficient fermentation which will be more viable in terms of economics and production. Time and traditional methods seems to be the restricting barriers to produce fermentation products on an industrial scale. The archaic taboos of the do’s and don’ts seem to be still having its grip on traditional fermentation.
Connoisseurs even swear that the fermentation products produced traditionally is far better than those that are produced in modern fermentation vats! Is there truth in such allegations? It is possible that modern fermentation is enriched by processes that takes a longer time to mature and produced the bouquet. In the haste of producing fermentation products in the shortest time possible this aspect of the problem is not fully appreciated!
More understanding of the process biochemistry and how to manipulate it needs to be carried out further
Of course this situation is not applicable to all fermentation products. Perhaps the solution to this problem is to integrate traditional fermentation with modern science of fermentation technology in order to achieve the best solution
Modern soy sauce manufacturer such as Kikkoman of Japan has successfully applied this marriage of convenience between traditional fermentation and modern fermentation technology
Let us face it, sooner or later the traditional fermentation will have to give way to modern fermentation technology. The days of the earthen vats and natural inocula will be replaced by shiny stainless steel fermentors and modern industrial strains.

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Phages are basically viruses. Bacteria and virus are one of the most common and feared cause of fermentation contamination. Just like influenza which affect us humans, it’s caused by virus. The only problem is that when fermentors are affected by virus it does not exhibit the common symptoms of humans getting influenza. Fermentors do not have ‘ runny nose’ or sneeze! Hehe. Instead it will target the fermentative microorganisms and will affect the production of the fermentation products.
Virus being virus are sometimes not considered as living things. They appear with crystalline morphology but containing protein and nucleic acids. The trouble with virus or phages they rely on living cells such as bacteria to grow. Once infecting bacteria they will take over the metabolism of the host bacteria and will reproduce much more virus particles that will infect further. To make things worst these virus or phages attack only specific cells or strains. So if the phages targeted the fermentative microorganisms that are the end!
In the fermentation industries such occurrences could be a financial disaster as all those fermentation activities have to cease!
The problem with industrial fermentation using bacteria is that in general they involved high volume cultures of the bacteria or considered as high density cell fermentation. The release of phages into the fermentor could create massive infection.
According to Sinderen (2007) in his situation could result in massive product loss, raw material spoilage, non productive operation costs and plant shutdown for decontamination purposes
It is possible to deactivate or reduce the chances of phages contamination. But with time there is always the risk and possibility of phage infection awaiting to occur at the slightest opportunity.
Broadly the few steps commonly taken in the control of phage infection in the fermentation industries include:
1 Maintenance of sterility or strong aseptic conditions and barriers at the level of the fermentor or its operation

2 Use of alternative cultures as phages are very strain specific or the use of mutants that are phage resistant
3 Use of physical and chemical agents that are phage inhibitors
4 Use of immobilized cells thus restricting the infection by phages

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011


This is the question that has often come to the minds of many Malaysians. And many have been convinced that there are indigenous fermented foods which seem to be their propriety rights! The truth is fermentation process has always been universal where almost every country in the world has their own unique fermentation products to be proud of.
The truth is each country has its own local names in their own language to identify the fermentation products. That does not mean that they have their own ‘copyrights’ over the fermentation products.
It is sad that in one of the states in Malaysia, the people even claimed that the fish sauce or ‘budu’ is their own unique fermented food! If only these believers take the trouble to research or even google that the fish sauce is produced in many countries especially where they have rich resource of fish. The believers are simply too blinded and obsessed with the belief that the fermented fish sauce is their own discovery.
It can be seen that the issue here is not about fermentation but more about semantics
Analyses of the various fermentation industries in Malaysia we could categorise them in the following groups:
1 Traditional fermentation which are often fermentation industries carried out from generation to generation and are often at the scale of cottage industries
2 Large industrial fermentations characterized by high volume low value products such as alcoholic beverages manufactured by giant brewers from the west as foreign investments
3 Limited pharmaceutical fermentations carried under license of giant pharmaceutical companies
4 Medium fermentation industries producing soy sauce, yeasts and the like
The local universities here are still bogged down in the quagmire of doing ‘Mickey mouse’ level of fermentation such as laboratory scale research and isolating strains of potential microorganisms. How many of these works will end up profitably as successful fermentation projects is for us to all wait and see

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I still remember fondly the first time in the seventies when we were taken on a visit to a well known seasoning manufacturing plant in Kuala Lumpur. The field trip is part of our course for those taking the subject of applied microbiology. Though the Professor then or for the matter we the students do not know much of the fermentation process and the various steps involved from substrate to the final product, memories of the visit are still remembered with fondness and perhaps drives me to study in greater detail the field of fermentation technology.
One of the most interesting points of the visit is seeing and understanding the transformation of the fermentation broth at the end of the fermentation process to become the final end product. From the huge vats containing the dark brown fermentation broth removed from the fermentors it is transformed to beautiful shiny crystals of monosodium glutamate ready for packing and distribution.
This whole process was carried out during the downstream stages of the fermentation process.
Many questions entered my mind such as:
1 Why the need to produce the crystal forms of the sodium glutamate?
2 How is the process of crystallization carried out?
In the fermentation industries everything boils down to economics. Even though the process of producing MSG crystals would add cost to the downstream processing costs but at the same time there must be more economic or even marketing benefits derived from such exercise.
In any fermentation products water form the bulk of the product. The presence of high concentration of water will not only add bulk and weight to the product but it will add costs to its packaging and transportation.
The presence of water too will increase the probability of microbial contamination as water tends to encourage microbial growth and deterioration of the products
In its crystal forms, these problems are eliminated. It is concentrated in the form of crystal and will deliver the power of the seasoning. There is also the added marketing value of the product as the crystals look clean and appealing and its purity of the product is assured
The process of forming the crystals is in simplification a kind of chemical precipitation reactions.
It is based on the salt or ionic nature of the products. Adding the Sodium to the glutamate will further stabilize the product to undergo the various harsh downstream reactions. While it is true that the process of crystallization is based on the nucleation and crystal growth of the crystal from a super saturated solution as it cools down, it is of most importance that the solution of MSG from the fermentation broth must be purified so as to produce clear and beautiful crystals.
Various downstream methods are used to obtain this clear broth such as cell separations which include centrifugation and membrane separation. This is followed by various preparatory steps such as ion exchange resin treatment, chromatography and crystallization. And in the crystallization stage there is concentration, neutralization and cooling. Ultimately the final steps include centrifugation, decantation and filtration to obtain the crude crystals
The crystallization process are usually carried out using the crystallizer

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Monday, October 10, 2011


In any industrial fermentation process it is of utmost importance that the fermentation process is carried out under the most optimum conditions. This is translated into an efficient and economical fermentation process in terms of fermentation yield and economic advantages.
There is also the tendency to carry out the fermentation process with minimum labour costs and by going ‘computerised’ or robotic in allowing the process to be run almost independent of human input.
In view of these requirements there is the push towards automatism and letting the computer monitor and control the fermentation process by the use of feedback loops control and the use of sensors which can detect the changes in the various fermentation parameters and interfacing it with computer control.
Such advanced robotics require the use or design of special programmes which will detect the changes of parameters within the narrow windows of optimum fermentation.
This aspect of control rely strongly on feedback control and in line monitoring so that immediate action could be taken by the computers to immediately ratify or bring back the deviation back to within the narrow windows of optimum environmental conditions.
Thus we see in such control the use of feedback is more towards sustaining the constancy of the environmental conditions of the fermentation process and not directly the performance of the fermentative organisms. Any benefit from the process is secondary after the sustained control of the environment. You just cant control or interface directly with the microorganisms ( may be in future years????)
As it is now the problem of feedback loop in computerized fermentation control is not so much limited by the capability of the computers or computer programmes but more by the limitation of the sensors that are suitable for the interface as well as the harsh environmental conditions of the fermentors
Here in lies the problem too the two most common type of sensors used are restricted to the invasive probes or sensors which are introduced into the fermentors or by sensors set in flow through pipes
As we have said it many times before the fermentation process is a complex process in perpetual state of flux. Thus it is difficult to sustain constant efficient fermentation process as other parameters that cannot be controlled keeps changing. There is a goldmine of information in this field of control for those that are willing to take up the challenge!

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Thursday, September 29, 2011


This picture is taken from:

If you have the chance to visit Seri Menanti in Negri Sembilan, you will not only be amazed by that ‘One square mile’ where most of the Negri royalties stayed but you will be awed by the architectural wonder of the Istana Lama.
The Istana Lama or the Old Palace is a unique architectural landmark consisting of a four storey wooden building which was built without the use of any iron nails . Some even say that the Istana is the highest completely wooden structure building in the world!!
UNESCO has even given the recognition of the Istana Lama as one of the World’s Heritage sites in recognition of its unique architecture
As a child in the early fifties living in Seri Menanti, the Istana Lama is a common sight to greet us every morning. It is a sight to behold the majestic palace against the backdrop of the surrounding mountain ranges. In the cold morning air it is common to see white mists rising in the hills with the sound of animals forming the forest orchestra.
Legend has it when the area was chosen to be the site of governance; the visitors were awed by the sight of the golden shimmering padi in the fields and thus named the area as Seri Menanti or “Shining awaiting”.There are others who argued that the name of the valley is modification of the words ‘ padi menanti’
The Old Palace is one of the two palaces in the valley. The older palace being fondly referred to as the Istana Lama and the new palace called Istana Besar or Grand Palace. The two palaces are only short distance apart from each other.
In order to appreciate the architecture of the Istana Lama, you have to see it from different aspects of the building. The building itself is the integration of customs, culture and even the neo architecture of the period the palace was built.
Historically speaking the rulers of Negri Sembilan was invited from Pagar Ruyong in Indonesia where the people consisted mainly of Minangkabaus. The Minangkabaus were unique in the sense their architecture reflect strongly of the use of buffalo horns in their design. This is translated directly into the design of the Istana Lama which proudly exhibits this heritage by having roofs in in the design of buffalo horns. What better proof could be shown of the migration of the Minangkabaus to the state of Negri Sembilan?
In order to appreciate the building structure would require more than just pictures taken from cameras. You need to walk around in and surrounding compound to really appreciate it.
Seri Menanti is a flat plain, right smack in the centre of a valley. The valley is generally surrounded by high hills on all sides except in certain areas which provide openings that connect with surrounding outside world.
Most of these royalties who built houses on the perimeter of the padang leading to the Old Palace hold important positions in the royalty household such as the Crown Princess, Tunku Besar and even the wives or mother of the king.
Against this backdrop of hills and mountains is the area where the Old Palace is built. The choice of site will provide a panoramic and commanding view of Seri Menanti.
Since the old palace was the tallest building then, it is possible to see the whole span of the valley. It is by no accident that the site was chosen. In fact it is interesting to note the ‘golden area surrounded are either owned by the palace or occupied by the royalty relatives.
The whole area surrounding the Seri Menanti palace was once abundant with padi that stretch as far as the eyes can see. A painting in the Istana depicted the scene of yesteryears of once what it was like.
Looking at the Istana Lama will easily convince the visitors of the strong Minangkabau influence as shown by the Buffalo Horn roofs or gables. This is not surprising as Negri Sembilan royalties directly came from Pagar Ruyong in Indonesia
The design of the old palace is full of symbolism to the culture than. The incorporation of 99 pillars that represent the warriors of the past
There are many facts and fictions or even legends tied with the building of the palace itself. All we are aware is that the building of the palace is under the direction of two ‘architects’ Kahar and Taib with the approval of the English Mr Woodford of JKR. It is said that the palace took a few years to build from 1902 to 1908
The Istana lama is a grand building four storey high. The uniqueness of the palace lies in the fact that it was built without the use of iron or metal nails. Instead the structure is held together by using wooden timber joints or wooden pegs or pasak.
Just like the Pyramids and Taj Mahal the building materials were sourced from the deep jungles kilometers away and slowly transported to the site using buffaloes. Many legends were associated with the transportation of the giant trees to the site of construction
So it is quite an architectural and constructional achievement to build buildings of that scale during that time.
For such a large and stately building, the Istana Lama holds many functions. As one goes from one floor to the next floor above, we see the transformation of the function of the palace from the first floor where the ruler has his attendance with the people and dignitaries, to the next floor which is reserved for the family of the royal house hold to the single room at the top where the state secrets and regalia are held
There are many stories and legends about what was kept in the single room at the top most floor!
Steep narrow wooden steps at the back leads from one floor to the next

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Monday, August 29, 2011


The most striking feature of British architecture is that most of their multi storey terrace houses remained the same throughout the years even though they are built in the era of the World Wars. The houses generally do not changed and have the same monotonous design that have withstand the test of time.
You could call it boring and monotonous, with the houses exhibiting the typically British Bay windows but it stood the test of time. Maybe this is what we called architectural conservation.
However, the modern architecture of terrace houses in Britain are different but still retaining the uniformity of small glass windows for better energy conservation. Often these modern houses are built with brown orange bricks
What ever the buildings are they are generally well kept and maintained
In Malaysia, the picture is different. Most of the double storey houses, that even include bungalows and semi detached houses are often renovated with building extensions, such as addition of porches and building extra rooms that do not take into account the conformity of the buildings with the surrounding buildings. It is almost the house owners are given a free hand in deciding how their houses look like. Of course they still have to adhere to certain building laws or by laws of the municipalities.
However, the end result is that the rows of houses looked ugly and appear as ‘squatter houses’
If the owners are restricted in their renovation, the architecture of their neighborhood would have been conserved and the beauty of the houses retained!
It is also a sad observation that once a building is bought, that is often their last major paintwork the building will have. So it is not surprising the sad state of appearance of the buildings which becomes more of an eyesore than a delight to the sore eyes.
The architects need to find a practical solution to all these problems by recommending laws or even in their designs of buildings with low maintenance.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011


Alcoholic beverages produced by fermentation are common among many countries throughout the world. The various types of alcoholic beverages produced by various countries are more a reflection of the differences in the type of carbon substrate used in the fermentation rather than the differences in the biochemistry of the alcoholic fermentation itself. Thus it’s not surprising that different names are given to different alcoholic fermentation from sake, tuak, arak, wine, toddy to even beers among others
Of course some of these alcoholic drinks are expensive while there are others which are cheap. This depends to a degree on the characteristics of the fermentation process and its products. Not withstanding that, all these alcoholic beverages are characterized often by the concentration of their alcohol or to be more precise its ethanol content.
It is a fact that refined alcoholic drinkers go for more than just the alcohol content but for the bouquet and other characteristics while the more hardened alcohol drinkers will go for alcoholic drinks which are very high in their alcohol content.
If we go to the hypermarkets or shops selling these alcoholic drinks we generally see a range of alcohol concentration. Beers are about 4% alcohol and wine can go higher.
Whiskies, rums and gins will have alcohol content that can send you into state of comatose or drunken stupor if you a first time alcoholic drinker
It is not uncommon to see people with problems or facing hardships will try to find solace in these drinks. The stronger the drink in terms of alcohol the better it is for them. But in reality the alcoholic drinks will never solve their real problems…..! It is not uncommon therefore to see these drunkards making a fool of themselves under the control of alcohol. But on the positive side there are many who claim chilli crabs tastes fantastic with alcohol!
Due to the search for higher alcohol content drinks many attempt to increase the alcohol content by trying to remove or reduce the water content of the alcoholic drink.
There are basically two methods to do this. In both methods you do need to appreciate some understanding of chemistry on the topics of miscibility and boiling points and freezing points
First method is by distillation. The distillation process has been used since ancient times to produce alcoholic drinks with a higher alcohol content. In distillation process the fermented solution is heated to certain temperature to form vapour. The vapour having higher content is cooled with higher enrichment of alcohol.
The second method is by controlled freezing of the fermentation products. As ice is solidifying, the concentration of alcohol in solution will remain higher
It should be warned here that these processes might be illegal in certain countries. So please check your laws

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There are two kinds of microbes in the fermentation industries; the good microbes which drive the fermentation industries and produce valuable fermentation products and the bad microbes which create problems in the fermentation industries. The problem is how are we going to prevent, remove or kill these bad microbes? Their removal would mean the desired fermentation process would be better in terms of fermentation products produced
There are commonly two objectives in removal of the unwanted bad microbes:
1 Kill the bad microbes
2 Remove the bad microbes by physical means
3 Prevent their growth or reproduction
In most fermentation industries steps 1 and 2 are the most common procedures. In this context of killing or removing the bad microbes it would either mean killing the living bad microbes (1) or killing and removing OR keeping their numbers low to an acceptable level (2)
All these above actions should be taken without affecting the good microbes! Remember that these actions do not differentiate between the good or bad microbes. So proper techniques in fermentation technology must be applied to ensure only the bad microbes are affected
In killing or removing the bad microbes we have to understand and differentiate the various terms which are commonly used interchangeably to describe the action. The most common terms are:
1 Sterilisation
2 Sanitisation
3 Disinfection
No matter there are differences in the 3 procedures, the common factor is that the bad microbes are killed or removed. But to the level of efficacy of microbial removal or killing depends on the procedures used and the various operating parameters
Theoretically in sterilization, it should be complete 100% removal of all living forms. It also means 100% killing of the microbes
In sanitization, it is often the removal or killing of microbes to the desired level. It is not a process of 100% removal.
In disinfection, it is more a sanitization but involving a surface or area. Most disinfection are carried out using chemical disinfectants and surfaces
So we can see the lines separating the three activities are actually vague.
Which method we use really depends on the purpose and objectives we have in mind.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011


I remembered on one occasion, a research student carrying out nutritional studies for antibiotic fermentation using shake flask cultures. The experimental design looked simple enough whereby the organisms were grown with lipid as the source of carbon for the antibiotic fermentation.
The problem is the experiment was poorly carried out and serious erroneous conclusions were obtained from the experiment.
The research supervisor and the student failed to observe that:
1 Much of the loss in carbon in the media in the form of the lipid was not due to its utilization by the microorganisms, but ending sticking on the sides of the inner walls of the shake flask
2 Emulsifiers that were used to break the lipids into small globules for the ease of action to be metabolized by the microorganisms in fact contain citric acid. Citric acid as we know it is part of the TCA cycle and are preferably taken up and metabolized by the microorganisms compared to the longer chain hydrocarbon
Sad to say these observations were not taken into considerations and resulted in the wrong conclusions derived from the study!
It is therefore very important that before the start of any serious experiments studies and research must be done to ensure that the experiments are properly carried out. It is times like this where peer review and criticisms should be welcomed and the input into the experiment appreciated

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Saturday, August 20, 2011


These are two common terms which are often used erroneously or interchangeably to describe almost the same process.
Pickling refers to a process whereby food usually in the form of vegetables is preserved in a solution of brine or vinegar to give it the unique taste.
The first part of pickling involves the fermentation process. There are microbes involved in the fermentation process such as lactic acid bacteria which were natural flora of the vegetables.
The second part of pickling involved the storage of the fermented vegetables in vinegar. Adding the vinegar will bring down the ph of the pickles to very acidic values about ph 4.6 which help in the preservation but also killed all the bacteria
Fermentation is also the process of food preservation where sometimes salt are also added. There will be involvement of fermentative microorganisms. The main difference is that the organic acids produced in fermentation are the fermentation or metabolic products of the microorganisms. Strictly speaking vinegar is not added in the preservation

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Friday, August 19, 2011


If I am not mistaken there are at least three public universities in this country regularly advertising or carrying out fermentation technology workshops. The syllabus of the fermentation technology workshops carried out by these universities are about the same .
I often wonder the purpose and the target groups to which these workshops are intended. The subject of fermentation technology is more geared towards the high end users or industries ( of which we have almost none). These fermentation technology workshops are geared especially for those that can afford the huge capital costs equipments or for those doing teaching and research in the academia. Therefore will such workshops be economically viable?
In Malaysia, our type of fermentation industries is not that competitive with such advanced nations that do require the use of such sophisticated outlay of equipments. Maybe to be more relevant we only need ONE training centre for such workshops. In our case in my personal views we simply have too many pilot plants in fermentation technology that it is no longer economically viable for too many workshops.
What we need perhaps are more in adapting the existing fermentation technology applications and principles to suit our local industries of which we have our specific niches. It does not help our local cottage fermentation industries to learn, operate or even own such advanced fermentation technology equipment. It simply doesn’t make sense! What our industries need are simple construction of self made fermentors or sterilizers. Our industries need to learn more about the importance of optimizing,controlling contamination and improving aseptic techniques
What we need is how to transfer the principles of fermentation technology to the traditional industries where they can understand or improve their production without having to invest in costly fermentors. As it is our industries are already saturated with various kinds of labels such as MSC status, Bionexus, QC, HACCP etc etc but with nothing much really happening.
Let us have a paradigm shift and instead conduct fermentation technology workshops which are more relevant to the traditional fermentation industries. Teach the operators and improve their processes and not be isolated in the empty pilot scale fermentation plants!

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011


The common term scale up in fermentation technology has been used frequently without really understanding the true meaning of scaling up. This state of confusion has often resulted in studies which are not really scale up but just ordinary fermentation research.
The objective of scaling up studies is to reproduce the same conditions of fermentation efficiency even though there is a great increase in the volume of the fermentor. Scale up is the well planned exercise passing through various stages of increasing volume so as to achieve the industrial production scale with full confidence.
The scale up exercise strictly speaking does not include the stages at the level of inocula development, Petri dish and shake flasks studies. This stage is still considered the preparation or the basic research studies that will ultimately lead to scale up studies
In scale up studies the increase in the volume of fermentors are increased by magnitudes rather than arithmetical increase. But what I have seen in the scale up laboratories or fermentation plant, the type of fermentors used in scale up generally are not designed for scale up! And yet they are very proud in declaring they have a battery of fermentors that can be used as scale up!

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I know this article should have been introduced in the earlier part of this blog. But by doing so I believe I would have succumbed to the normal approach of introducing the subject of fermentation or fermentation technology. This would have made the standard approach boring and the readers of the blog would have thought that there’s nothing new or exciting to learn about fermentation technology.
Instead I have opted to introduce the history of fermentation technology by letting the readers of the blog discover the spread and depth of this topic and to appreciate the subject of fermentation technology less from the traditional history approach but much more from the critical point of view
It is true that the understanding of fermentation technology have its roots far deep in the past or early beginning of human civilization. It should be noted that from the spread of fermentation activities occurring almost in all countries and civilizations, its discovery must have been independent of specific country. It could be considered as more as parallel evolution in the knowledge of fermentation.
Sad to say that despite these observations, there are still some countries or nations which regarded that the fermentation process is their sole copyright in the evolution of human history. If only they realized that the discovery of alcoholic drinks and even fermented food such as fish undergoes the same process with the same microorganisms. The only significant difference is in their naming of the fermented products in the language of their country. Guess the pride of these people is the reflection of their own ignorance of the developments in fermentation in other countries besides their own. (The black age of ignorance of the past is still thriving in the modern minds of the uneducated today!)
The beginning or the discovery of fermentation or fermentation technology is very closely inter twined with ignorance and even religion. There is a general belief in the past that magical forces act to transform the food materials into fermented products. Despite the proof by Pasteur and the wide scientific studies on fermentation today, things have not changed much from the past. There are many human civilizations still believing the presence of forces or spirits to allow fermentation to occur. Even in this modern age the making of certain fermented foods such as tapai or fermented substrate is restricted by the various taboos. If these taboos are broken the fermented food or beverage would not turn well.
There is no such things as taboos to explain the failures but more the problems of contaminations and lack of understanding of the fermentation technology knowledge.
In the Roman mythology they even have honored the fermentation process especially with regard to wine by having a Roman God of wine named as Bacchus. So it is not strange if our own medicine men took to the wine to dance and get into the trance !!
Nothing have changed much from the earlier days of discovery of fermentation to what fermentation is today. The input of engineering and the inventing of the fermentors only help to improve the efficiency of the fermentation process. Strange it may be as in the case of many fermentation products such as antibiotics the many fold increase in the volume or concentration of fermentation products is attributed not so much by the improvement in the design of the fermentors but by the improvement in the fermentation productivity of the strains
In fact the design of fermentors have not changed much from the days of Fleming. Today they are still arguing on the problems of stirrers and impellers…. and rudimentary novel bioreactors.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011


Most fermentors on the market are generally provided with the Rushton type impeller irrespective of the type of fermentation process carried out and the nature of the fermentation broth rheology. It must be bear in mind that the Rushton impeller is not the universal or standard impeller available. There are many choices of impellers available and the experienced or educated fermentation technologist should have the confidence to choose the right impeller for the right fermentation process
Choosing the most suitable stirrer and impeller system is not easy and one could not rely entirely on the ‘advice’ given by the salesman. He has the job of selling and pushing his products to you and will promise you everything. After all a lot of business is based on deception or the ‘second hand car dealer’ bag of lies
The basics of using stirrers and impellers in a fermentor are to provide mixing and homogenous conditions that will enhance the various mass transfer processes. There are many factors to be considered when choosing the right impeller and stirrer such as speed, power consumption, volume of fermentation broth to even the shape, size and geometry of the fermentor
The objective of any mixing is not to overmixed or undermixed the fermentation broth. Instead the stirrer and impeller should be able to provide a ‘comfortable range’ of mixing where the objectives are met without extreme damages or negative effects to the fermentation process.
This knowledge can only be achieved through experience and sound advice acquired from other fermentor users. But what ever, totally relying on the universal Rushton impeller for all your fermentation mixings is not the right move.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011


As important it is to do scale up exercises in fermentation technology especially for new studies involving new fermentation process or modification of existing fermentation process, the exercise itself is not simple and cannot be executed in one or two simple steps involving one or two parameter studies.
Most fermentation technologists in their first exposure of the scale up exercise would just think just having a few fermentors of different sizes or just monitoring some basic ‘rules of the thumb’ such as tip speed studies they will be able to complete the studies to reach the necessary confidence.
It is far from that, as we know it ourselves that the fermentation process is a very complex process involving various phases that affect the behavior of the microorganisms. IT IS NOT JUST A SIMPLE MATHEMATICS OR ENGINEERING CALCULATION OR EXTRAPOLATION!. It is not easy to achieve the ideal state of trying to reproduce the efficiency of the fermentation process obtainable on small scale studies to at those at larger scale involving several magnitudes in the increment of volume
If we look at the various components in the fermentation process in the scaleup the behavior of the various parameters show different results or behavior. In such a way even before scale up studies are done, detailed studies and understanding of the process of the fermentation must be deeply understood.
The trouble is that most textbooks on fermentation technology seem to present the model of scaling up as being to easy and discussing the topics in such a brief account with a sprinkle of a few formulae
Scaling up understanding are often acquired through real experience and through trial and errors. There is no ‘short cut’ about it. You need to adjust as you go on and to have inputs not only from books but research papers in the journals!

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The raw materials used in fermentation constitute the substrates for the fermentation process. The substrates could be seen as either the raw materials that will be ultimately transformed into the desired fermentation products or they could be regarded as the source of nutrients for the fermentation microorganisms.
The substrates form the bulk of the fermentation broth and often considered as one of the most important component in the cost of the fermentation products. Thus in order to lower the costs of production the search for the most cheapest and economical source of fermentation substrate will be the top most agenda in any proposed fermentation industry.
The search for the most suitable substrate is not only dictated by costs and availability of the substrate but by other factors such as complexity of unwanted reactions that affect not only upstream, midstream but downstream activities. This would also mean the problem of treating its effluent from polluting the environment
In most cases the search for the right fermentation substrate or its admixture composition started with the detailed nutrient elemental analyses. Generally a single source of substrate do not have the sufficient composition to fulfill all the requirements as the fermentation substrate and a concocted admixture is often created to make it ‘wholesome’ or complete as the ideal substrate
Some of the recipes of the fermentation substrate is determined or created in the laboratory where the necessary type and concentration of media is determined as if it is a recipe. Experiments and complex chemical and elemental analyses would be carried out by using various analytical methods and its suitability by carrying out nutritional and physiological studies involving petri dish to even small fermentors
After all just having a fermentation media complete with all its composition does not always guaranteed the suitability or success for the fermentation
The source of the fermentation substrate should be cheap economical and easily available. This is a problem usually involving high volume low cost fermentation process. Pure chemicals though idealistic would send the fermentation costs shooting to the sky! And would not be economically viable unless the fermentation product is high cost and low volume
Such source of cheap fermentation substrate for high volume low cost fermentation has only one possible source that is the unwanted cheap agricultural or industrial waste products. After all to the microbes they don’t see it as dining at expensive restaurant; a food or nutrient is just a source of nutrients or elements
It is of utmost importance that the source of waste products for fermentation is not only cheap but continually available in stable supply. Several alternative sources for contingencies must always be taken care of as good logistics procedure

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In the previous blog, I have discussed the design of the fermentor and the concept that there is no such thing as a ‘standard fermentor’ although the various fermentors used almost similar system requirements.
When we say that we are ‘customising’ a particular fermentor it means that the fermentor is designed and built for a specific fermentation process. It is not designed for the use of other fermentation process.
The concept of a standard fermentor means that it is a general fermentor that can be used or modified for various types of fermentation process. The concept of the ‘ standard fermentor’ is to simplify it so that it is easily understood for those who are in their beginning to learn fermentation or to use fermentor in their novice stage.
But as you advanced in your research and understanding of the limitations and capabilities of fermentors you tend to prefer to ‘ customise’ your fermentor so as to provide specific solutions to your problems.
In certain cases of customizing such as in the use of novel bioreactors, the fermentors do not at all looked like the standard fermentor. The use of standard design fermentors would not be able to provide the answers to your problems.
In certain cases, extreme modifications are made in customizing the fermentor.
This is one of the example where issues arise during scaling up or scaling down studies. The exercise is looked as a simple exercise where the use of similar geometry seems to be the easiest way to find the answers. No wonder such studies do not really help or give the accurate answers…….

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Thursday, August 11, 2011


The presence of air or gases could be a complicating factor during autoclaving process. The volume that makes up the internal environment of the autoclave is filled with air. Air itself is a bad conductor of heat. So the presence of air in the autoclaving could affect the efficiency of the autoclaving process, unless these air are removed before the start of the autoclaving process.
The removal of air from within the autoclave could be carried out by heating the autoclave until active steaming is carried out. Once this is achieved the valve could be closed and the autoclaving process is started.
What is not often appreciated is that air is not only present in the autoclave but are also present in the spaces of the bottles, test tubes, fermentors and containers to be autoclaved. It is important therefore that this consideration be taken into account.
Sufficient time and heating must be given to drive these air out too or else the parameters for the sterilization cycle be modified if needed.

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One of the essential components in the use of autoclave is pressure. Autoclaves are usually operated at a higher pressure than the environment. High pressure is needed in order to achieve the sterilizing temperature of 121 degrees centigrade. Without pressure water can only boil at 100 degrees centigrade under normal atmospheric pressure. ( Of course at higher elevation such as on mountain tops, where the atmospheric pressure is less water boils at lower temperature!)
Generally pressure of about 15 psi is required for autoclaving. This pressure is achieved by heating the water in the sealed compartment of the autoclave. High pressure is due to the built up of the steam as the water is heated. There is a pressure safety valve in autoclaves that the high pressure is not overshot. ( This explains the regular hissing sound produced during autoclaving as excess pressure is regulated)
While it is very important to build the pressure to the correct value before autoclaving is initiated, it is also important that at the end of a sterilization that the pressure is brought back to normal values before the autoclave is opened to remove the sterilized items.
Heating and cooling processes take time. Most users are impatient for the time it takes to cool and lower the pressure. Impatience often results in users trying to speed up the release of pressure by opening the release valve too quickly. This action would result in the boiling over of the contents of the flasks and test tubes which could result in the wetting of the cotton plugs and increase the possibility of contamination.
Opening the doors to quickly could result in the sudden release of internal pressure by the autoclave. This could result in scalding of the body as the hot steam rushes out. Release of pressure must be done slowly and only when it reaches zero is the door of the autoclave opened

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