Mannitol Salt Agar (bottom left); MacConkey's Agar (top center) and Blood Agar (bottom right)

Differential & Selective Bacterial Growth Media
MacConkey's, Mannitol Salt & Blood Agar
LAB NOTES from Science Prof Online


Bacterial growth media are used in labs to provide nutrients, moisture and a surface for bacteria to grow on. Some media will grow just about any type of bacteria, whereas other types are specialized to only grow certain microbes and to often provide additional information that can help identify microbes.

Selective Bacterial Growth Media
Specialized media can be selective; formulated to grow only certain microbes while 
Article Summary: Agar media are used to grow bacteria in the laboratory. There are also specialized media that provide information on the identity of the microbes growing.
Differential & Selective Bacterial Growth Agar
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Prokaryotic Cell, Mariana Ruiz
1. Sterile Blood Agar plate, 2. BAP alpha hemolysis; 3 & 4. beta hemolysis; 5. gamma would show growth on top of  the media, but when viewed from the bottom, shows no change in the red color of the medium. 
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Media Both Selective & Differential
Some specialized media are both selective and differential, others are either or. The MacConkey’s and Mannitol Salt described above are both selective and differential bacterial growth media.

In addition to MacConkey’s agar only growing Gram-negative bacteria (the selective aspect of the medium), MAC has special additives that cause lactose fermenting bacteria (microbes that can metabolize the sugar lactose) to grow in pink colonies, whereas Gram-negative non-lactose fermenting bacteria will grow in colorless colonies.

Mannitol Salt is also both selective and differential. This medium only grows salt-loving bacteria (so it is selective). In addition, bacteria that grow on MSA that can ferment mannitol, a sugar alcohol, will turn the medium from its original pink color to a bright, neon yellow. This color change is clinically significant in that Staphylococcus aureus, a disease-causing bacterium, is a mannitol fermenter, while S. epidermidis, a beneficial bacteria that normally grows on the surface of the skin and mucous membranes, is not a mannitol fermenter.

Sources and Resources
  • Bauman, R. (2014) Microbiology With Diseases By Taxonomy, 4th ed., Pearson Benjamin Cummings.
  • Schauer, Cynthia (2009) Applied Microbiology HCR120 Laboratory Manual, Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
1. Sterile plate of MacConkey's Agar (MAC); 2, LAC- Salmonella on left, LAC+ E. coli on right, both plates are MAC; 3. Happy LAC+ microbe on MAC; 4. Lac+, Gram- microbe growing on MAC, 5. Colony directly under word "MacConkey's" os a colorless non-lactose fermenter.  Click here for more MacConkey's Agar Images.

1. Sterile plate of Mannitol Salt Agar (MSA), 2. Staphylococcus epidermidis growing on MSA, 3 Mannitol + bacteria on left plate, Mannitol - bacteria on right plate, both plates are MSA; 4. Mannitol + bacteria on left, Mannitol - bacteria on right, both plated together on one MSA plate; 5. Same plate from bottom.
Click here for more Mannitol Salt Agar Images.
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VIDEO: ​How to Interpret MacConkey's Agar (MAC)
 Bacterial Growth Medium
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VIDEO: ​How to Interpret Mannitol Salt Agar (MSA) Specialized Bacterial Growth Medium
VIDEO: ​How to Interpret 
Blood Agar (BAP) Specialized 
Bacterial Growth Medium
Microbiology Lab Videos
Instructor's Corner
inhibiting ​the growth of others. For example MacConkey’s (MAC) selective bacterial growth medium will only grow Gram-negative bacteria. Mannitol Salt medium (MSA) will only grow halophilic (salt-loving) bacteria, such as Staphylococcus & Micrococcus. While selective media do not typically identify bacteria down to the species level, they do help narrow down the search.

Differential Bacterial Growth Media
Differential media typically display some type color change in the presence of certain bacteria. Blood Agar (BAP) is another type of differential medium. BAP is rich in nutrients and contains sheep blood. It is not selective, and will grow many different types of microbes. Blood agar medium is, however, differential. It will display a color change in the presence of bacteria that can lyse (break down) the red blood cells in the medium. Bacteria that grow on this medium will produce one of three hemolytic patterns:
  • ​alpha-hemolysis = partial lysis of the red blood cells, which gives the medium a bruised appearance
  • beta-hemolysis = complete lysing of the red blood cells, which turns the agar from red to clear
  • gamma-hemolysis = no lysis of the red blood cells and no change to the appearance of the mediums color

The beta-hemolytic bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes, is a pathogen that will completely break down the red blood cells in this agar, causing clear areas to form around its colonies growing on BAP.

Sterile MacConkey's Agar, Mannitol Salt Agar & Blood Agar
Sterile MacConkey'sMannitol Salt & Blood Agar 
(clockwise from top left)
​Page last updated: 9/2014

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