Specialized Bacterial Growth Media: Mannitol Salt, MacConkeys & Blood Agar (clockwise from left)

Types of Culture Media Used for 
Growing Bacteria
from Science Prof Online


Bacteria grown in a laboratory environment, like captive animals in a zoo, need to have everything provided for them—food, water, a suitable environment—in order to survive and thrive. Some microbes are not especially choosy in their requirements 
Article Summary: Many types of bacterial growth media are used to culture bacteria in the laboratory. Here's a summary of defined, complex, selective and differential media. 
Types of Bacterial Growth Media Used to Culture Bacteria
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Prokaryotic Cell, Mariana Ruiz
Page last updated: 5/2015

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media can be thought of as a crowd-pleaser, suitable for growing many different types of less fastidious microbes.

In addition to growth media formulations being classified as either defined or complex, there are also media that are designed to do more than just grow bacteria, selective and differential media provide information about the bacteria growing.

Selective Bacterial Growth Media
Selective media contain ingredients that inhibit the growth of certain types of bacteria and/or encourage the growth of others. This type of media is useful in helping to identify unknown bacteria and in encouraging the growth of only the types of bacteria that the microbiologist is interested in cultivating.

For example 
MacConkey’s Agar (MAC) is used to cultivate Gram-negative bacteria, by discouraging the growth of Gram positive bacteria through the use of crystal violet dyes and bile salts. Another selective medium, Mannitol Salt Agar (MSA), has a high concentration of sodium chloride, which selects for halophiles (salt-loving bacteria) such as members of the genus 

for growth, while others, such as Treponema 
pallidum, the causative agent of syphilis, has never been successfully grown in culture, although scientists have been trying to do so for more than 100 years.

Several basic types of media are discussed below. Although their differences are featured, there are several characteristics that all culture media have in common: 
  • Media must be prepared in such a way that it is sterile prior to being inoculated with a bacterial sample, so that when a particular type of bacteria is cultured (cultivated) on that medium, it is the only type of bacteria present. 
  • Growth media must also provide everything the bacterial culture needs to live and grow, including water, nutrients, and the proper pH. Media can be either liquid (nutrient broth) or solid (agar).

Defined Media versus Complex Media
Some media formulations are very specific recipes in which certain ingredients must be present in specific amounts. These defined media (also known as synthetic media) are used to grow bacteria that have very particular needs.

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MacConkey's Agar growing Gram-negative bacteriaSalmonella, which doesn't ferment lactose, is growing colorlessly in section #4. E. coli, which does ferment lactose, is growing pink in section #3.

Tryptic Soy Agar (TSY) is a good all-purpose medium commonly used to grow bacteria in the microbiology laboratory.
Most clinical cultures do not have such exacting requirements, and can be grown in what is referred to as “complex media”. Complex media are composed of partially digested yeast, beef, soy and additional proteins, in which the exact concentration and composition is unknown. In comparison with defined media, which are good for growing bacteria with very particular needs, complex 
Tryptic Soy Agar (TSY) is a good all-purpose medium commonly used to grow bacteria in the microbiology laboratory.
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