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Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar – Composition, Principle, Preparation, Results, Uses

What is Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar?

  • Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar is a culture medium used for the presumptive identification of Enterobacteriaceae, a family of bacteria that includes various pathogenic and non-pathogenic species. It was initially described by Sulkin, Willett, and Hajna in 1940.
  • The TSI Agar contains three carbohydrates: glucose, lactose, and sucrose. It serves to assess the ability of bacteria to ferment these sugars and produce certain byproducts. Fermentation of sugars leads to acid production, which is indicated by a color change in the medium.
  • The TSI Agar also includes sodium thiosulphate and ferrous ions, which act as indicators for hydrogen sulfide (H2S) production. When bacteria reduce thiosulphate in an acidic environment, it results in the formation of hydrogen sulfide gas. This gas combines with ferrous ions to produce a black precipitate of ferrous sulfide.
  • The interpretation of TSI Agar results is based on the observed color changes and gas/H2S production. The medium can differentiate between different bacterial groups based on their sugar fermentation patterns and gas/H2S production.
  • An alkaline slant and an acid butt indicate that the organism ferments glucose only. An acid slant and an acid butt can indicate fermentation of glucose and either lactose, sucrose, or all three sugars. The presence of cracks or bubbles in the medium indicates gas production, while the formation of a black precipitate in the butt indicates H2S production.
  • TSI Agar is used in various applications, including the identification of Enterobacteriaceae in food products, confirmation of the presence of Salmonella in microbial limit tests, and the identification of gram-negative bacilli.
  • It is important to note that TSI Agar provides presumptive identification and should be used in conjunction with other confirmatory tests for accurate identification of specific bacterial species.

Principle of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar

The Principle of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar involves the use of a specialized medium containing multiple sugars, pH-sensitive dye (phenol red), and specific chemical compounds. This agar is used to differentiate organisms based on their carbohydrate fermentation patterns and hydrogen sulfide production.

TSI agar is prepared by combining 1% lactose, 1% sucrose, and 0.1% glucose, along with sodium thiosulfate and ferrous sulfate or ferrous ammonium sulfate. These ingredients are mixed together and allowed to solidify at an angle, resulting in a slanted agar test tube. The slanted shape of the medium provides different surfaces exposed to varying degrees of oxygen, creating either an aerobic or anaerobic environment for the organisms being tested.

Carbohydrate fermentation is an essential factor analyzed in the TSI agar test. This fermentation process is indicated by the production of gas and a change in the color of the pH indicator (phenol red) from red to yellow. As organisms ferment carbohydrates, they produce acids that cause a decrease in pH, leading to the color change from orange-red to yellow. This change indicates the presence of acid resulting from carbohydrate fermentation.

The TSI agar also detects oxidative decarboxylation of peptone, which leads to the production of alkaline by-products. This process causes the pH of the medium to rise, resulting in a change in color from orange-red to deep red.

In addition to carbohydrate fermentation, the TSI agar medium allows for the detection of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) production. The presence of sodium thiosulfate and ferrous ammonium sulfate in the medium enables the detection of H2S, which is indicated by a black color in the butt of the test tube.

To facilitate the identification of organisms that only ferment glucose, the concentration of glucose in the TSI agar is one-tenth the concentration of lactose or sucrose. This limited amount of glucose leads to minimal acid production during glucose fermentation, which quickly oxidizes and causes the medium to remain orange-red or revert to an alkaline pH. In contrast, the butt of the test tube, being under lower oxygen tension, maintains an acidic (yellow) reaction.

After the glucose is depleted, organisms capable of doing so will start utilizing the lactose or sucrose present in the medium. The fermentation patterns of these additional sugars can be observed by changes in the color and gas production.

Interpreting the TSI agar results involves analyzing the reactions in the slant and the butt of the tube. The following reactions can occur:

  1. Alkaline/Acid (Red slant/Yellow butt) reaction: This indicates fermentation of glucose only.
  2. Acid/Acid (Yellow slant/Yellow butt) reaction: It indicates fermentation of glucose, lactose, and/or sucrose.
  3. Alkaline/Alkaline (Red slant, Red butt) reaction: It indicates the absence of carbohydrate fermentation.

Additionally, the medium may turn black if hydrogen sulfide is produced, and gas production is observed as bubbles or cracks in the agar, indicating the formation of carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen (O2).

In summary, the TSI agar is a versatile medium used to differentiate organisms based on their carbohydrate fermentation patterns and hydrogen sulfide production. By observing the color changes and gas production in the slant and butt of the agar test tube, important information about the metabolic characteristics of the tested organisms can be obtained.

Composition of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar

IngredientsGms / Litre
Peptone10.000
Tryptone10.000
Yeast extract3.000
HM Peptone B#3.000
Lactose10.000
Sucrose10.000
Dextrose (Glucose)1.000
Sodium chloride5.000
Ferrous sulphate0.200
Sodium thiosulphate0.300
Phenol red0.024
Agar12.000
Final pH (at 25°C)7.4±0.2

Preparation of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar

The preparation of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar involves the following steps:

  1. Suspend 64.52 grams of TSI Agar powder in 1000 ml of distilled water.
  2. Heat the mixture to boiling to ensure complete dissolution of the medium. Stir well to ensure proper mixing.
  3. Once the medium is completely dissolved, distribute it into test tubes. The medium should be distributed in a quantity that allows for the formation of a slanted agar surface with a butt approximately 1 inch long.
  4. Sterilize the TSI Agar tubes by autoclaving. The recommended sterilization conditions are 15 pounds of pressure (121°C) for 15 minutes. This ensures the elimination of any potential contaminants.

Note: It is also mentioned that for better results, the TSI Agar medium can be sterilized using slightly lower conditions, such as 10 pounds of pressure (115°C) for 15 minutes. This alternative sterilization method can be used without compromising the quality of the medium.

Following these steps ensures the proper preparation and sterilization of the TSI Agar medium, making it ready for use in differentiating organisms based on their carbohydrate fermentation patterns and hydrogen sulfide production.

Procedure for TSI Agar Test

The procedure for the TSI Agar test involves the following steps:

  1. Start with a sterilized straight inoculation needle. Select a well-isolated colony from the bacterial culture you wish to test.
  2. With the sterilized needle, gently touch the top of the selected colony to pick up some bacteria.
  3. Inoculate the TSI Agar by first stabbing through the center of the medium. Insert the needle all the way to the bottom of the tube, ensuring proper penetration.
  4. After stabbing, withdraw the needle and then streak the surface of the agar slant. The streaking should be done by gently moving the needle back and forth on the slanted surface.
  5. Once the inoculation is complete, loosely replace the cap of the TSI Agar tube. It is important to leave the cap loosely to allow for gas exchange during incubation.
  6. Incubate the TSI Agar tube at a temperature of 35°C (95°F) in ambient air. The recommended incubation time is 18 to 24 hours.

By following these steps, the TSI Agar test allows for the observation of carbohydrate fermentation patterns and hydrogen sulfide production by the inoculated organism. The incubation period allows the bacteria to grow and exhibit their metabolic characteristics, which can be observed and interpreted based on changes in color, gas production, and other visible reactions within the TSI Agar medium.

Expected results of TSI Agar test

The interpretation of results on Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar involves analyzing various color changes and reactions observed in the medium. Here’s a breakdown of the interpretations based on the observed results:

  1. If the bacteria only use glucose:
    • The bottom of the agar turns yellow (acidic)
    • The slope of the agar turns red (alkaline) Explanation: The bacteria rapidly metabolize glucose, leading to an initial acid reaction (acid on acid – A/A) with an acid bottom. As the glucose is consumed, if the bacteria cannot use lactose and sucrose, they will utilize peptones (amino acids) aerobically as an energy source, causing the release of ammonia and increasing the pH. This turns the indicator, phenol red, from yellow to red (alkaline over acid – K/A).
  2. If the bacteria use glucose, sucrose, and/or lactose:
    • Both the bottom and the slope of the agar turn yellow (acidic) Explanation: After glucose consumption, the bacteria continue to ferment sucrose and/or lactose, resulting in a yellow slope and a yellow bottom (acid on acid – A/A). Note that if the medium is incubated for longer than 48 hours, lactose and sucrose may be depleted, causing the pH to become alkaline again due to peptone metabolism.
  3. If the bacteria do not use any of the sugars:
    • If the bacteria can metabolize peptones aerobically and anaerobically, both the slope and the butt remain red (alkaline on alkaline – K/K).
    • If peptones can only be metabolized aerobically, the slope remains red, and there is no change in the butt (alkaline on no change – K/NC). Explanation: In this case, the bacteria utilize peptones as their energy source since they are unable to ferment any of the sugars present in the medium.
  4. Gas production:
    • Bubbles or cracks in the agar indicate the production of gas (CO2 and O2). Explanation: Gas production is observed as a result of bacterial fermentation, and it can be an additional indicator of metabolic activity.
  5. H2S production:
    • A black precipitate in the agar indicates the production of hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Explanation: The black coloration indicates that the bacteria have produced H2S from sodium thiosulfate. The presence of H2S is detected by the formation of insoluble ferrous sulfide indicated by a black color. The formation of H2S requires an acidic environment, indicating glucose fermentation. Even if the pellet cannot be observed due to the darkening of the medium, the presence of H2S suggests glucose consumption and acidification of the medium.

Based on these observations, the following interpretations can be made:

  • Alkaline slant/no change in the butt (K/NC): Glucose, lactose, and sucrose non-fermenter
  • Alkaline slant/alkaline butt (K/K): Glucose, lactose, and sucrose non-fermenter
  • Alkaline slant/acidic butt (K/A): Glucose fermentation only, possible gas production, and possible H2S production
  • Acidic slant/acidic butt (A/A): Fermentation of glucose, lactose, and/or sucrose, possible gas production, and possible H2S production.

Results of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar Tests

OrganismsGrowth
Salmonella enterica Growth; red slant, yellow butt, gas positive, black-butt (H2S produced)
Escherichia coli Growth; yellow slant, yellow butt, gas positive, no H2S produced
Pseudomonas aeruginosa Growth; red slant, red butt, no gas, no H2S produced
Shigella sonnei Growth; red slant, yellow butt, no gas, no H2S produced
Citrobacter freundiiYellow slant, yellow butt, gas production; positive reaction for H2S Blackening of medium
Enterobacter aerogenesYellow slant, yellow butt, gas production; no H2S produced
Klebsiella pneumoniaeyellow slant, yellow butt, gas positive, no H2S produced
Proteus vulgarisRed slant, yellow butt, no gas production; H2S produced
Salmonella Paratyphi ARed slant, yellow butt, gas production; no H2S produced
Salmonella TyphiRed slant, yellow butt, no gas production; H2S produced
Salmonella TyphimuriumRed slant, yellow butt, gas production; H2S produced
Shigella flexneriRed slant, yellow butt, gas negative, H2S not produced
Results of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar Tests
Results of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar Tests
A/A , GA/A, G, H2S+ALK/AALK/A, GALK/A, G, H2S+ALK/A, H2S(w)
Citrobacter spp.
Cronobacter
Enterobacter
Escherichia coli
Klebsiella spp.
Pantoea
Yersinia spp.
Citrobacter spp.
Proteus vulgaris
Escherichia coli
Morganella
Proteus penneri
Providencia spp.
Serratia spp.
Shigella spp.
Yersinia spp.
Escherichia coli
Citrobacter spp.
Enterobacter spp.
Hafnia
Klebsiella spp.
Proteus myxofaciens
Providencia alcalifaciens
Salmonella enterica serovar Paratyphi
Serratia spp.
Yersinia kristensenii
Citrobacter spp.
Edwardsiella tarda
Proteus mirabilis
Salmonella serovars other than S. enterica serovar Typhi and Paratyphi
Salmonella enterica serotype Typhi

A, acid; ALK, alkaline; G, gas; +, positive; w, weak.

Quality Control

Quality control is an essential aspect of using Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar to ensure accurate and reliable results. Here is the information related to quality control for TSI Agar:

  1. Appearance: TSI Agar should appear as a light yellow to pink homogeneous free-flowing powder. Any deviations in the appearance should be noted and investigated.
  2. Gelling: The gelling of TSI Agar should be firm and comparable to a 1.2% Agar gel. This ensures that the medium solidifies properly, providing the necessary structure for bacterial growth and reactions.
  3. Colour and Clarity of Prepared Medium: When the TSI Agar is prepared, it should form a pinkish-red colored, clear to slightly opalescent gel in the tubes as slants. Any abnormal color or clarity changes should be noted.
  4. Reaction: A 6.45% w/v aqueous solution of TSI Agar should have a pH of 7.4±0.2 at 25°C. This pH range ensures the appropriate conditions for bacterial growth and reactions.
  5. Cultural Response: The cultural response of TSI Agar can be evaluated using specified organisms after incubation at 35-37°C for 18-24 hours. The expected growth, slant, butt reactions, gas production, and hydrogen sulfide production should match the reference results for the specific organisms.
  6. Specimen Collection and Handling: Appropriate techniques for sample collection and processing should be followed, as per the guidelines. Contaminated materials used with TSI Agar must be sterilized by autoclaving before discarding to prevent the spread of microorganisms.
  7. Limitations: Limitations should be taken into account when interpreting TSI Agar results. Some bacteria, particularly certain members of the Enterobacteriaceae family and H2S-producing Salmonella, may not exhibit H2S production on TSI Agar. Sucrose utilization in TSI Agar can suppress the enzymic pathway resulting in H2S production. This limitation should be considered during result interpretation.
  8. Performance and Evaluation: The performance of TSI Agar is expected when used as per the directions on the label and within the recommended temperature range. Proper storage conditions and adherence to expiration dates are also important factors for maintaining the quality and performance of TSI Agar.

By ensuring appropriate quality control measures, laboratories can maintain the integrity of TSI Agar and obtain reliable results for the differentiation of microorganisms based on their fermentation patterns and hydrogen sulfide production.

Uses of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar

The Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar has several uses in microbiology, primarily in differentiating organisms based on their carbohydrate fermentation patterns and hydrogen sulfide production. Here are the main uses of TSI Agar:

  1. Determining Carbohydrate Fermentation: TSI Agar is used to assess the ability of an organism to ferment glucose, lactose, and sucrose. The medium contains these sugars, and the resulting fermentation reactions can be observed by color changes in the agar.
  2. Hydrogen Sulfide Production: TSI Agar is also employed to detect the production of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) by microorganisms. The presence of sodium thiosulfate in the medium allows for the identification of H2S production, which is indicated by a black precipitate.
  3. Differentiating Enterobacteriaceae: TSI Agar is particularly useful in differentiating members of the Enterobacteriaceae family from other gram-negative rods. The variations in sugar fermentation patterns and H2S production help distinguish these organisms and aid in their identification.
  4. Differentiation within Enterobacteriaceae: TSI Agar can further differentiate different species or strains within the Enterobacteriaceae family based on their sugar fermentation patterns. By observing the color changes and gas production in the medium, specific characteristics of these organisms can be identified.

Overall, TSI Agar serves as a valuable tool in the laboratory for identifying and classifying bacteria, particularly within the Enterobacteriaceae family. It allows for the differentiation of organisms based on their carbohydrate fermentation capabilities and their ability to produce hydrogen sulfide.

Limitations of Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar

The Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar has certain limitations that should be considered when interpreting the results. Here are the main limitations of TSI Agar:

  1. Incomplete Identification: TSI Agar provides initial information about the carbohydrate fermentation patterns and hydrogen sulfide production of organisms. However, for complete identification, additional tests such as biochemical, immunological, molecular, or mass spectrometry testing should be performed on colonies from a pure culture.
  2. Proper Stabbing Technique: It is crucial to stab the butt of the medium when inoculating TSI Agar. Failure to do so can invalidate the test. Additionally, the integrity of the agar must be maintained during stabbing, and caps should be loosened to allow for proper gas exchange. Incorrect technique or tight caps can lead to erroneous results.
  3. Reading Timeframe: TSI Agar results should be read within the specified incubation period of 18-24 hours. Reading the results too early may result in false-positive reactions, while reading them later than 24 hours may lead to false-negative reactions.
  4. Masking of Acid Production: Organisms that produce hydrogen sulfide may mask the acid production in the butt of the medium. However, it is important to note that hydrogen sulfide production requires an acidic environment, so the butt portion should still be considered as having an acid reaction.
  5. Sensitivity in Detecting Hydrogen Sulfide: TSI Agar may not be as sensitive in detecting hydrogen sulfide as compared to other iron-containing media, such as Sulfide Indole Motility (SIM) Medium. Therefore, if hydrogen sulfide production is a crucial characteristic, alternative tests may be preferred.
  6. Variation in Fermentation Patterns: Certain species or strains of bacteria may exhibit delayed reactions or completely fail to ferment carbohydrates in the expected manner. This variability can limit the accuracy and reliability of TSI Agar results for some organisms.

Considering these limitations and potential variations in results, it is important to use TSI Agar as part of a comprehensive testing approach and to interpret the results alongside other relevant tests for accurate identification and characterization of microorganisms.

Why Sucrose is added to TSI Agar? 

Sucrose is added to TSI Agar for several reasons:

  1. Early Detection of Coliform Bacteria: The addition of sucrose in TSI Agar allows for the earlier detection of coliform bacteria that ferment sucrose more rapidly than lactose. Coliform bacteria are a group of gram-negative bacteria commonly found in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals. By including sucrose in the medium, the differentiation between sucrose-fermenting and lactose-fermenting coliform bacteria can be made at an earlier stage.
  2. Identification of Specific Gram-Negative Bacteria: Sucrose also aids in the identification of certain gram-negative bacteria that have the ability to ferment sucrose but not lactose. This differentiation helps in distinguishing between different species or strains within the gram-negative bacterial group.
  3. Oxygen Gradient in the Medium: TSI Agar is designed with a slanted shape, which creates an oxygen gradient within the medium. The slanted surface provides a well-oxygenated area on the top (the slant) and a poorly oxygenated area at the bottom (the butt). This differential oxygen availability influences the growth and metabolism of bacteria and helps in detecting various fermentation patterns.

By incorporating sucrose into TSI Agar, it allows for the differentiation and early detection of specific bacterial groups based on their ability to ferment sucrose compared to lactose. It aids in the identification of coliform bacteria and provides additional information for the characterization of certain gram-negative bacteria. Overall, the addition of sucrose enhances the discriminatory power of TSI Agar, enabling more accurate identification and classification of microorganisms.

FAQ

What is Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar?

Triple Sugar Iron (TSI) Agar is a specialized culture medium used in microbiology to differentiate bacteria based on their ability to ferment sugars and produce hydrogen sulfide.

What are the ingredients of TSI Agar?

TSI Agar contains peptone, tryptone, yeast extract, lactose, sucrose, glucose, sodium chloride, ferrous sulfate, sodium thiosulfate, phenol red, and agar.

What is the purpose of TSI Agar?

The main purpose of TSI Agar is to differentiate bacteria based on their carbohydrate fermentation patterns and hydrogen sulfide production.

How does TSI Agar work?

TSI Agar provides a slanted surface that creates an aerobic environment at the top and an anaerobic environment at the bottom. Bacteria are inoculated onto the agar and their fermentation patterns are observed by color changes in the medium.

What are the possible reactions on TSI Agar?

Possible reactions include alkaline/alkaline (red slant/red butt), alkaline/acid (red slant/yellow butt), acid/acid (yellow slant/yellow butt), and no carbohydrate fermentation (red slant/no change in butt).

What do the color changes in TSI Agar indicate?

A change from red to yellow in the medium indicates acid production from carbohydrate fermentation. A change from red to black indicates the production of hydrogen sulfide.

What is the importance of gas production in TSI Agar?

The production of gas, observed as bubbles or cracks in the agar, indicates the fermentation of sugars and the production of carbon dioxide and oxygen.

How long should TSI Agar be incubated?

TSI Agar should be incubated for 18 to 24 hours at a temperature of 35-37°C.

Can TSI Agar be used for the identification of specific bacterial species?

TSI Agar can provide valuable information for the identification of certain bacterial species, particularly within the Enterobacteriaceae family. However, additional tests are usually required for complete identification.

What are the limitations of TSI Agar?

Limitations of TSI Agar include the variability in fermentation patterns among different bacterial species and the potential suppression of hydrogen sulfide production by sucrose utilization. It is important to interpret the results in conjunction with other tests and clinical information for accurate identification.

References

  • https://exodocientifica.com.br/_technical-data/M021.pdf
  • https://microbiologie-clinique.com/triple-sugar-iron-agar.html
  • https://asm.org/ASM/media/Protocol-Images/Triple-Sugar-Iron-Agar-Protocols.pdf?ext=.pdf
  • https://www.austincc.edu/microbugz/triple_sugar_iron_agar.php
  • https://legacy.bd.com/europe/regulatory/Assets/IFU/Difco_BBL/226540.pdf
  • https://www.sigmaaldrich.com/deepweb/assets/sigmaaldrich/product/documents/175/684/t1563dat.pdf

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