Microbiology is complex and ever evolving, with challenges ranging from climate change resulting in environmental instability, to emerging diseases with antimicrobial resistance. Artificial intelligence (AI), which excels in analysis, pattern recognition, and generating novel ideas, can accelerate our understanding of microorganisms. It is crucial to leverage AI’s capabilities and advance at an unprecedented pace while also being conscious of the need for rigorous validation.

The benefits

AI systems are able to analyse and interpret vast amounts of microbiological data efficiently through training using extensive datasets containing genomic sequences, phenotypic data, and environmental information. Their machine learning algorithms enable pattern recognition and understanding of microbial species and behaviours in complex environmental settings. Leveraging this capacity, AI can extrapolate or interpolate values accurately, predicting microbial properties. As technology advances, AI processes will become even faster, enabling specific areas of microbiology to facilitate AI further with available datasets.

Traditionally, identification and characterisation of unknown microorganisms for potential health and industrial benefits can be time-consuming and limited in their ability to accurately classify microbes and identify their potentials. However, these drawbacks can be mitigated by analysing complex and vast amounts of genomic, genetic, and phenotypic data through AI at a scale and speed beyond human capabilities. Discovery of novel enzymes, valuable metabolites, and bioactive compounds such as antibiotics will also be a prospective area for AI to accelerate the drug discovery process and reduce the cost and time required for development. Moreover, using AI tools we can enhance the field of personalised medicine by enabling precision microbiomics. The human microbiome, consisting of trillions of microorganisms residing in and on our bodies, has been linked to various health conditions, including autoimmune diseases, obesity, and mental health disorders. By analysing multi- omics data, integrating genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics to understand the intricate relationships between the microbiome and human health at a highly accurate level can pave the way for personalised interventions and therapies. These can in addition be tailored to an individual’s needs and unique microbiome composition in a short period of time.

The limitations

However, it is essential to acknowledge that there are also certain disadvantages and concerns about AI technology. Arguably the biggest problem is the heavy reliance on high quality datasets with minimal inconsistencies and limitations, as these irregularities will show through in outputs. Additionally, AI algorithms may struggle with certain complexities inherent in microbiological data, such as high variability, though this may be resolved with more advanced training algorithms in the future. It is crucial to approach the integration of AI in microbiology with caution, due to the fact that while it is an astonishingly efficient tool, human supervision and regulation is mandatory.

The future

AI holds great promise in microbiology, providing powerful tools for handling accumulated data to accelerate research and aid in uncovering new insights in the complex world of microorganisms. While acknowledging its limitations and requirement for regulation, the integration of AI in microbiology has the potential to revolutionise the field, leading to advancements in infectious disease management, personalised medicine, and environmental microbiology, ultimately improving human health and our understanding of microbial ecosystems.