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Bacterial Culture Media Classification, Ingredients, Functions and Preparation.

What is Bacterial Culture Media?

  • Bacterial culture media play a critical role in microbiology, serving as the foundation for growing, maintaining, and analyzing microorganisms. These media can be in the form of solid agar plates or liquid broths, each designed to support the life cycle of bacteria and other microbes by providing essential nutrients, energy sources, and a conducive environment for their growth.
  • The composition of a bacterial culture medium is meticulously formulated to meet the diverse nutritional needs of various microorganisms. Given the wide array of bacteria, each with its unique metabolic requirements, the ingredients of culture media vary significantly. These ingredients include, but are not limited to, water, sources of carbon and nitrogen, vitamins, minerals, and sometimes growth enhancers or inhibitors, depending on the purpose of the medium.
  • An effective culture medium is one that encompasses all necessary elements for the targeted microorganism’s growth and proliferation. This is crucial because the absence of even a single essential nutrient can inhibit the growth of the microbe, leading to unsuccessful cultivation.
  • Moreover, some culture media are engineered to be selective or differential, or both. Selective media contain components that inhibit the growth of certain microbes while promoting the growth of others, making it easier to isolate and cultivate specific microorganisms from a mixture. Differential media, on the other hand, contain substances that cause visibly distinguishable changes in the appearance of different microorganisms, aiding in their identification.
  • Specialized culture media are also developed to enhance the growth of particular microbes from environmental or clinical samples, where they might be present in very low numbers amidst a plethora of other microorganisms. This selective enhancement is crucial for the accurate detection and study of specific bacteria in complex samples.

Ingredients of Bacterial Culture Media

The formulation of bacterial culture media is a precise science that involves combining various ingredients to create an environment conducive for the growth and study of bacteria. These ingredients serve specific purposes, from providing essential nutrients to enabling the differentiation of bacterial species. Understanding these components is fundamental for anyone working in microbiology or related fields.

  • Beef Extract – Beef extract, derived from concentrated lean beef tissue, is a rich source of soluble substances from animal tissues. These include carbohydrates, organic nitrogen compounds, vitamins, and salts, all of which are essential for nourishing bacteria.
  • Peptone – Peptone is produced by breaking down proteins from meat, casein, or gelatin using acids or enzymes like pepsin. This process yields a mixture rich in organic nitrogen, which may also contain vitamins and carbohydrates. The specific composition of peptone can vary, influencing its ability to support different bacterial growths.
  • Gelling Agents (e.g., Agar) – Agar, a complex carbohydrate extracted from certain seaweeds, is predominantly used to solidify culture media. Although not a nutrient source for bacteria, agar forms a gel at temperatures below 45°C, creating a stable matrix for bacterial colonies to grow upon. Other gelling agents like gelatin, carrageenans, and alginates may also be used in specific media formulations.
  • Yeast Extract – An aqueous extract of yeast cells, yeast extract is commercially available in powder form and serves as a rich source of B vitamins, organic nitrogen, and carbon components, which are vital for bacterial metabolism.
  • Selective Agents – Chemicals or antimicrobials added to culture media can suppress the growth of unwanted microorganisms, making the medium selective for the growth of specific bacteria. Common selective agents include bile salts, dyes, and various antimicrobials, each chosen for their specific inhibitory properties.
  • Indicator Substances – These substances, such as phenol red or bromo-cresol purple, are added to culture media to signal the fermentation of specific carbohydrates by changing color at critical pH levels, aiding in the identification of bacterial species.
  • Buffering Agents – Buffering agents, like phosphates and citrates, help maintain a stable pH in the culture medium, especially important when fermentable carbohydrates are present as energy sources.
  • Essential Metals and Minerals – Micro- and macro-elements such as zinc, manganese, copper, and others are critical for various enzymatic and structural functions within bacterial cells. These are added in precise amounts to support optimal bacterial growth.
  • Energy SourcesCarbohydrates, most commonly glucose, are incorporated into media as primary energy sources. The concentration and type of carbohydrate can significantly affect the growth rate and metabolism of the bacterial cultures.
  • Other Ingredients – Additional components like water, electrolytes, and sometimes blood or serum, are used to enrich the media further. Blood, for instance, is added to support the growth of fastidious organisms by providing additional nutrients and growth factors.
  • Serum in Media – Serum is a complex mix of growth factors, hormones, and proteins that can significantly enhance cell growth and function. While beneficial for its nutritive properties, serum’s use in culture media can also introduce variability due to its complex and variable composition.
Benefits from serums in mediaDisadvantages of serums in media
Serum is a source of many growing factors as well as hormones that can stimulate cell growth and function.Uncertainty within the composition and composition of the serum
Aids in the connection of cellsIt is essential to conduct tests to ensure the quality of each batch prior to use
Spreads the word aboutMight contain some factors that inhibit growth
acts like a buffer agent that assists in maintaining the pH of the media cultureIncrease the chance of contamination
It functions in the role of a binding proteinThe presence of serum in media can interfere with separation and purification of products from cells
Reduces mechanical damage and the damage caused by viscosity

Bacterial culture media classification

Culture media can be classified based on several parameters: 

  • the chemical constituents from which they are made
  • their physical nature, and 
  • their function.

Classification of Culture Media based on Chemical Composition

Bacterial culture media, vital for the cultivation and study of microorganisms, can be categorized based on their chemical composition. This classification facilitates the selection of the appropriate medium for specific research needs or microbial cultivation. Here’s an overview:

1. Defined or Synthetic Medium

  • Comprised of precisely measured ingredients, each with known quantities.
  • Excludes any components derived from animals, yeast, or plant tissues.
  • Includes specific trace elements, vitamins, carbon sources, and nitrogen sources tailored for particular microbes.
  • Available in both liquid (broth) and solid forms, the latter solidified with agents like agar.
  • Ideal for culturing photosynthetic microbes that rely on CO2 and light.
  • Examples include Dubos’ medium with Tween 80 for general use and B-11 medium specifically designed for cyanobacteria.

2. Complex Media

  • Characterized by the inclusion of ingredients with unspecified chemical compositions.
  • Often used due to the broad nutritional coverage they provide, capable of supporting the growth of various microorganisms.
  • Essential for culturing fastidious organisms with complex nutritional needs that are not yet fully understood.
  • Common components include peptones (protein hydrolysates), meat extract, and yeast extract, which collectively supply essential nutrients like amino acids, peptides, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Examples encompass nutrient broth, tryptic soy broth, and MacConkey agar, each catering to different microbial cultivation needs.

3. Simple Media

  • Also known as basal media, these are the foundation upon which more complex media are built.
  • Typically includes basic nutrients necessary for a wide range of bacteria, making it a versatile starting point for various applications.
  • Nutrient broth, a simple liquid medium, and nutrient agar, its solid counterpart, are prime examples of simple media. They mainly contain peptone, meat extract, and sodium chloride.
  • The addition of glucose or other specific nutrients can modify these media to meet more specialized requirements.

Classification of Culture Media based on Physical Nature

The classification of bacterial culture media based on their physical nature is essential for microbiologists to select the right medium for specific purposes, such as isolation, cultivation, and diagnostic identification of microorganisms. Here’s a concise overview:

1. Liquid Media

  • Offer high sensitivity for isolating small numbers of bacteria.
  • Examples: Nutrient broth, sugar media, and enrichment media like Brain heart infusion broth and Selenite-F broth.
  • Disadvantages: Mixed cultures are harder to identify without subculturing onto solid media; quantification of bacterial growth is challenging.

2. Semisolid Media

  • Characterized by a soft, custard-like consistency, with agar concentrations of 0.5% or less.
  • Useful for: Cultivating microaerophilic bacteria and determining bacterial motility.
  • Examples: Media used for the detection of motility and the cultivation of specific bacteria requiring low oxygen tension.

3. Solid Media

  • Contains 1.5 to 2.0% agar, forming firm, transparent gels that support the isolation and characterization of bacterial colonies.
  • Advantages: Facilitates the isolation of bacteria and identification based on colony morphology.
  • Examples: Nutrient agar for routine cultures, Blood agar for fastidious organisms, MacConkey agar for Gram-negative bacteria, and specialized media like Lowenstein Jensen medium for Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Classification of Culture Media based on Function/Application

Many special-purpose media are needed to facilitate recognition, enumeration, and isolation of certain types of bacteria. To meet these needs, the microbiologist classified cultural media into the following categories based on their application;

  • Selective media
  • Differential or indicator media
  • Transport media

1. Selective media

  • Selective media allow the growth of particular microorganisms, while inhibiting the growth of others. 
  • For example, many Gram-negative bacteria will grow on media containing bile salts or dyes such as basic fuchsin and crystal violet; however, the growth of Gram-positive bacteria is inhibited. 

Example of Selective media

  • Eosin methylene blue agar and MacConkey agar are widely used for the detection of E. coli and related bacteria in water supplies and elsewhere. These media suppress the growth of Gram-positive bacteria.
  • Thiosulfate citrate bile salt sucrose agar (TCBS) selective for the isolation of Vibrio cholerae
  • Deoxycholate citrate agar (DCA) selective for enteric bacilli, such as Salmonella spp. and Shigella spp.
  • LJ medium selective for Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
  • Hektoen enteric (HE) agar selective for Gram-negative bacteria.
  • Mannitol salt agar (MSA) selective for Gram-positive bacteria.
  • Xylose lysine desoxycholate (XLD) agar selective for Gram-negative bacteria.
  • Buffered charcoal yeast extract agar selective for certain Gram-negative bacteria, such as Legionella pneumophila.
MediumColony characteristicsOrganisms inhibited
Mannitol salt agarBig yellow colonies of Staphylococcus aureus, Small pink colonies of Staphylococcus epidermidisStreptococcus
Thayer Martin
Gray colonies of Neisseria meningitidis and Neisseria gonorrhoeaeGram-positive cocci
MacConkey agar mediumLactose fermenters: red colonies, e.g., Escherichia coli.
Lactose nonfermenters: colorless colonies of Salmonella spp.
Gram-positive cocc
Thiosulfate citrate bile salt sucrose agarSucrose fermenter: yellow colonies of Vibrio cholerae.
Sucrose nonfermenters: green colonies of Vibrio parahaemolyticus
Enteric bacilli
Charcoal yeast extractCut glass colonies of Legionella spp.Gram-positive cocci
Lowenstein– Jensen mediumRough, tough, and buff colonies of Mycobacterium tuberculosis.
Smooth and pigmented colonies of atypical Mycobacterium spp.
Sabouraud’s dextrose agar
Most fungiMost bacteria

2. Differential or indicator media

  • Differential media are media that distinguish among different groups of microbes and even permit tentative identification of microorganisms based on their biological characteristics.
  • When Certain reagents or supplements, incorporated into culture media, may allow differentiation of various kinds of bacteria. 
  • For example, if a mixture bacteria is inoculated onto a blood-containing agar medium (blood agar), some of the bacteria may hemolyze (destroy) the red blood cells: others do not. Thus one can distinguish between hemolytic and nonhemolytic bacteria on the same medium.
  • Differential or indicator media basically help to distinguish one microorganism from another growing on the same media by their growth characteristics. 
  • Differential or indicator media depend on the biochemical properties of a microorganism growing in the presence of specific nutrients or indicators, such as neutral red, phenol red, eosin, or methylene blue. 
  • Blood agar is both a differential medium and an enriched one. 
  • The medium changes color when a bacterium grows in them. 
  • For example, S. typhi grows as black colonies on Wilson and Blair medium containing sulfite. Lactose fermenting bacteria, such as E. coli produce pink colonies, whereas non-lactose fermenting bacteria, such as Salmonella spp. form pale or colorless colonies on MacConkey agar. Fermentation of lactose in the medium makes it acidic and leads to the formation of pink colonies in the presence of neutral red. 

Examples of differential media include

  • Eosin methylene blue (EMB), differential for lactose and sucrose fermentation;
  • MacConkey, differential for lactose fermentation;
  • Mannitol salt agar (MSA), differential for mannitol fermentation; and
  • X-gal plates, differential for lac operon mutants for detection of recombinant strains of bacteria for study in molecular biology.

3. Transport media

  • Transport media are used to maintain the viability of certain delicate organisms in clinical specimens during their transport to the laboratory. 
  • They typically contain only buffers and salt. 
  • They lack carbon, nitrogen, and organic growth factors, hence do not facilitate microbial multiplication.
  • Examples of transport media are Stuart’s transport medium for Neisseria gonorrhoeae. 

Enriched media

  • The enriched media are invariably solid media that facilitate growth of certain fastidious bacteria. 
  • These media are prepared by adding substances like blood, serum, and egg to the basal media in order to meet the nutritional requirements of more exacting and more fastidious bacteria. 
  • Examples of enriched media are Blood agar, chocolate agar, Loeffler’s serum slope (LSS), and LJ medium. 
  • Blood agar is an enriched medium in which nutritionally rich whole blood supplements constitute the basic nutrients. 
  • Chocolate agar is enriched with heat-treated blood (80°C), which turns brown and gives the medium the color for which it is named.

Enrichment media

  • Enrichment media are liquid media that stimulate the growth of certain bacteria or suppress the growth of others for isolation of desired pathogenic bacteria.
  • Commensal bacteria, such as Escherichia coli present in feces, tend to overgrow pathogenic ones in stool specimens. In such situations, enrichment media (such as selenite-F broth or tetrathionate broth) are used for the isolation of Salmonella Typhi and Shigella spp. from feces.

Assay Media

  • Media of prescribed compositions are used for the assay of vitamins, amino acids, and antibiotics, Media of special composition are also available for testing disinfectants.
  • An example of Assay Media is; antibiotic assay media are used for determining antibiotic potency by the microbiological assay technique.

Enumeration Media

  • It is Specific kinds of media are used for determining the bacterial content of such materials as milk and water. 
  • Their composition must adhere to prescribed specifications.
  • Basically, Enumeration Media is used to enumerate the number of bacterial cells within a sample.

Characterization Media

  • Characterization Media are conventionally used to determine the type of growth produced by bacteria, as well as to determine their ability to produce certain chemical changes

Maintenance Media 

  • Satisfactory maintenance of the viability and physiological characteristics of a culture over time may require a medium different from that which is optimum for growth. Prolific, rapid growth may also be associated with rapid death of the cells at the end of the growth phase.
  • For example, glucose in a medium frequently enhances growth, but acid harmful to the cells is likely to be produced. Therefore, omission of the glucose is preferable in maintenance medium.

Preparation of bacterial culture media

The preparation of bacteriological media usually involves the following steps: 

  1. Each ingredient, or the complete dehydrated medium, is dissolved in the appropriate volume of distilled water. 
  2. The pH of the fluid medium is determined with a pH meter and adjusted if necessary.
  3. If a solid medium is desired, agar is added and the medium is boiled to dissolve the agar. 
  4. The medium is dispensed into tubes or flasks. 
  5. The medium is sterilized, generally by autoclaving. Some media for specific ingredients) that are heat-labile are sterilized by filtration.

Applications of bacterial culture

There are a variety of reasons it is possible or desirable to grow bacteria. In this article, we will look at some of the more common uses.

Diagnosis of the infection

Despite the time required to isolate and determine bacteria from the sample, bacterial culture is still a vital diagnostic tool.12 Although PCR can quickly identify any particular pathogen, identifying the cause can confirm that the pathogen remains alive and alerting scientists to possible transmission risks and providing the treatment. Also, the bacterial strain could be further investigated for further specific information such as sensitivity to antibiotics as well as directing treatment decisions. The strains can be saved to be used in the future to be used for instance for monitoring of diseases.

Genetic manipulation

It is possible to alter the genomes of bacteria for a variety of reasons. For example, seeking to comprehend the fundamental biological process, to reduce it when making vaccine strains, or to increase the production of proteins and then make a reference strain that has the ability to detect a marker, to name only a few. If you are mutating, deletion or introducing genetic material it is essential to establish the desired strain prior to or after the process of genetic engineering.

Study of epidemiology

Characterizing and cultivating bacteria can be crucial for epidemiological studies.14 Scientists can analyze how populations of bacterial species change in time. This can guide therapeutic, vaccine and diagnostic designs and updates, and also examine transmission events that can help inform public health policies and guidelines. In the Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance project (GISP) is a good example of a project that studies strains that are resistant to antibiotics which aids in the formulation of treatment recommendations for drugs. It is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also manages an active Bacterial Core monitoring (ABCs) system that provides monitoring in the laboratory and across the population of pathogens that are invasive and of important to public health.

Scale up to allow the study of omics

Although the sequencing of DNA or RNA may be done with small quantities of genetic material even at the single-cell scale, for the majority of research Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) is still carried out on bacteria. As therefore, bacteria typically require a culture in order to prepare DNA and the RNA extraction.15 If you’re seeking one particular strain (unlike microbiome research which may include an assortment of) the strain will originate from a pure culture.

Develop therapeutics and vaccines

In order to combat an bacterial pathogen generally, you must be able of cultivating the pathogen as well. In the course of developing vaccines, it is possible to isolate strains of bacteria to learn their genomes and amplify their genes, or alter the genes. Additionally, to test potential therapies or vaccines in the course of testing, it is usually essential to conduct challenge tests17 that test subjects with the pathogen to test whether the treatment is effective. For this it is necessary to grow the bacterial strain usually grown and, within an established challenge model recorded to monitor and measure the amount that the subjects are exposed to.

Production of food and beverages

Bacteria are a crucial component of the process of making numerous foods. They are divided into starter and probiotic culture.

Probiotics are typically cultivated for their health benefits,18 usually through our gut microbiome. Although probiotics could include a variety of species of bacterial, Lactobacillus as well as Bifidobacterium are the most popular selections to cultivate.

Starter culture, however, are often used as a an element of a food production process to enhance flavor, texture and nutritional value, or to improve preservation. Examples include sourdough loaves, salami, 19 pepperoni, and dried salami. Bacteria that cause lactic acid (LAB) are often present in the starter cultures. Certain foods and beverages might, however, be between the two camps like yogurt, and the ever-popular Kimchi20 and Kombucha, where the products are consumed to enjoy their taste and probiotic benefits.

Whatever the reason that a culture is designed to serve keeping a clean environment that is free of contaminants is crucial for the highest quality production and consumer security.

Food contaminants can be detected

Although some bacteria are useful in food production however, they could also be contamination and could be able be a cause of serious food-borne illness. The most common causes are Salmonella as well as., Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni, and E. coli. It is crucial that the analysts can cultivate any potentially harmful bacteria in food samples, even if they’re present in small amounts.

Types of Animal Cell Culture Media

Cells from animals can be cultivated with a organic medium, or using an artificial or synthetic medium together with some natural substances.

Natural media

Natural media comprise only of biological fluids that naturally occur. Natural media are extremely useful and are suitable for a large spectrum of animal cell culture. One of the major drawbacks of using natural media is its low reproducibility because of the ignorance of the precise composition of these natural media.

Artificial media

The synthetic or artificial mediums are made by combining ingredients (both organic and non-organic) including vitamins, salts CO2 and O2 gas phases and blood proteins, carbohydrates, cofactors. Artificial media are created to meet one or one or more of the following functions 1)) instant survival (a balanced salt solution with a specific pH and Osmotic pressure) 2.) extended life (a healthy salt solution that is supplemented with various organic substances and/or serum) 3.) unending growth; 4) special roles.

Artificial media are classified in four types:

Serum containing media

Fetal bovine serum can be described as the most commonly used ingredient in the culture of animal cells. It is an inexpensive supplement that can provide the best culture environment. Serum acts as a carrier or chelator for water-insoluble and labile nutrients, hormones , growth factors, inhibitors of protease and neutralizes toxic molecules.

Serum-free media

The presence of serum in media is not without its drawbacks. It can result in serious misinterpretations when studying immunology. Many serum-free media are being developed. They are usually made to help in the cultivation of a particular type of cell like Knockout Serum Replacement or Knockout the DMEM of Thermo Fisher Scientific, and the mTESR medium of Stem Cell Technologies, for stem cells. They contain specified amounts of growth factors purified such as lipoproteins and proteins, that are typically provided by serum. These media are often called ‘defined culture media’ because the components of these media are well-known.

Chemically defined media

They contain non-contamination organic and inorganic components, and can contain protein-based additives that are pure like growth factors. The constituents of these media are created in yeast or bacteria by genetic engineering and the inclusion of cholesterol, vitamins as well as specific amino acids and fatty acids.

Media that is protein-free

Protein-free media are not enriched with any protein, and are only composed of non-protein components. In comparison to serum-supplemented media the use of non-protein media encourages higher cell growth and expression of proteins and aids in the downstream purification of any express product. Formulations such as MEM, RPMI-1640, are all protein-free and protein supplementation is available as needed.

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