THE VIRTUAL EDGE: Lab 15 Enzyme-Mediated Biochemical Activities of Bacteria: Physiological Testing I

Biochemical Activities of Bacteria:

In many distinct areas of microbiology, the ability to identify microorganisms has important application. For example, in food microbiology it is important to be able to accurately identify food spoilage contaminants. In microbial ecology, the identification of microorganisms helps us characterize biodiversity. In the field of medical microbiology, a branch of microbiology that investigates pathogenic microorganisms, the primary focus is to isolate, identify, and study microorganisms responsible for infectious disease.

Many microorganisms are permanent residents, or normal flora, of the human body. Bacteria that are normal flora are important symbionts of the human body, most of which cause no ill effects and some, which are actually beneficial to human health. Only a small percentage, less than 10%, of all known bacteria are pathogenic, or able to cause disease in a susceptible host. In order to identify an unknown in the clinical laboratory, a sample must be collected from the patient. This could be a sample of urine, feces, saliva, or a swab of the throat or skin. Because the clinical samples will most likely contain many microorganisms, both normal flora and pathogens, it is important to isolate the pathogen in a pure culture using various types of selective and differential media. Following isolation, one of the first steps in identifying a bacterial isolate is the Gram stain, which allows for the determination of the Gram reaction, morphology, and arrangement of the organism. Although this information provides a few good clues, it does not allow us to determine the species or even genus of the organism with certainty. Thus, microbiologists use characteristic biochemicalactivities to more specifically identify bacterial species. A Few Biochemical/Physiological Properties Used for identification of bacteria include: nutrient utilization (carbohydrate utilization, amino acid degradation, lipid degradation), resistance to inhibitory substances (high salt, antibiotics, etc.), enzyme production (catalase, coagulase, hemolysins, etc.) and motility.

This series of lab exercises will introduce many of the physiological characteristics/biochemical activities of bacteria commonly encountered in a clinical microbiology laboratory. Knowledge of these key characteristics will enable the identification of unknown bacterial isolates. It is important to thoroughly understand the basis for each biochemical test and know the key physiological characteristics of the bacterial genera and species presented in these labs.


Note: Labs 15-17 will utilize a number of different media and tests that are described in the ATLAS and on the course web page (Summary of Biochemical Tests).Please use these as references for all of these labs and for the investigation of unknowns in Labs 18-21.

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