Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Modern myths #2: We understand microbes best in pure culture and as single colonies.

A common image associated with microbiology is that of the plastic Petri dish.  The ability to grow microorganisms like this is in fact the foundation of microbiology and much of our knowledge about microbial biochemistry, genetics, physiology, etc. comes from culture-based work. 

However, there are several limitations to this approach, some of which can now be addressed with alternative methods. 

Culturing organisms in a Petri dish meaning growing them in non-natural conditions, not only are the organisms in an artificial environment with a pre-defined collection of nutrients, they are usually grown in isolation… cut off from the normal community of microbes surrounding them in nature. 

In addition, we now know that only around 1% of the microorganisms in a typical environment can even be cultured at all. 

New sequence-based techniques such as metagenomics and rRNA sequencing can help address both of these concerns to varying degrees, and are an important complement to culture-based techniques.

 Posted by Dr. Tim Sandle, Pharmaceutical Microbiology Resources (

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