Many features of microorganisms make them pre-eminently suitable for study by microcalorimetry. They have thus, in the past, been the basis of fundamental studies in metabolism and cellular physiology. In this review we look at the application of calorimetry to the impact of bacteria and fungi on the pharmaceutical industry both in the exploitation of useful microorganisms and the fight against harmful ones. Obviously they are of great relevance to the pharmaceutical industry as agents of human disease, with more antimicrobial products registered for production than for any other type of human affliction. Microcalorimetry offers the opportunity to study microorganisms in real time and in heterogeneous systems, allowing for more descriptive and representative analysis. Other advantages that microcalorimetry confers over traditional microbiological techniques are reductions in time, better reproducibility and simplicity. Also the manufacture of all pharmaceutical products requires the exclusion of microorganisms to a greater or lesser degree. The enumeration and identification of such contaminants is of great importance for the well-being of patients and to maintain the integrity of the product. New techniques are required to increase the reliability and sensitivity over conventional methods. Finally, as our understanding of biology develops, the sophistication of therapeutic agents available, such as vaccines, cytokines and engineered antibodies, is increasing. Necessarily, prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, possibly transformed with the appropriate genes, are the producers of such proteins. Microcalorimetry offers a sensitive means of developing the conditions for optimum production of such products in active form since it gives instantaneous information on the physiology of the producer cell.