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Anaerobic Culture Techniques. 3rd Science Practical Seminar 1 Vincent O’Flaherty. Anaerobic microorganisms are widespread and very important Do not require oxygen for growth - often extremely toxic. Facultative anaerobes - can grow in the presence or absence of oxygen

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Anaerobic culture techniques

Anaerobic Culture Techniques

3rd Science Practical Seminar 1

Vincent O’Flaherty



  • Facultative anaerobes - can grow in the presence or absence of oxygen

  • Obtain energy by both respiration and fermentation

  • Oxygen not toxic, some use nitrate (NO3-) or sulphate (SO42-) as a terminal electron acceptor under anaerobic conditions


  • Obligate (strict) anaerobes - oxygen is toxic to these organisms, do not use oxygen as terminal electron acceptor

  • Archaea such as methanogens and Bacteria, e.g Clostridia, Bacteriodes etc. etc.



Oxygen toxicity
Oxygen Toxicity growth, but cannot tolerate the levels present in the atmosphere

  • Oxygen is used by aerobic and facultatively anaerobic organisms as its strong oxidising ability makes it an excellent electron acceptor

  • During the stepwise reduction of oxygen, which takes place in respiration toxic and highly reactive intermediates are produced reactive oxygen species (ROS).


Anaerobic and aerobic respiration
Anaerobic and Aerobic Respiration growth, but cannot tolerate the levels present in the atmosphere


Ros production during respiration
ROS production during respiration growth, but cannot tolerate the levels present in the atmosphere

  • O2 + e- => O2- superoxide anion

  • O2- + e- + 2H+ => H2O2 hydrogen peroxide

  • H2O2 + e- + H+ => H2O + OH. Hydroxyl radical

  • OH. + e- + H+ => H2O water


  • Organisms that use O growth, but cannot tolerate the levels present in the atmosphere2 have developed defence mechanisms to protect themselves from these toxic forms of oxygen - enymes

  • Catalase: H2O2 + H2O2 => 2H2O + O2

  • Peroxidase: H2O2 + NADH + H+ => 2H2O + NAD+

  • Superoxide dismutase: O2- + O2- + 2H+ => H2O2 + O2



Anaerobic environments
Anaerobic environments enzymes they possess.

  • Anaerobic environments (low reduction potential) include:

  • Sediments of lakes, rivers and oceans; bogs, marshes, flooded soils, intestinal tract of animals; oral cavity of animals, deep undrground areas, e.g. oil packets and some aquifers

  • Anaerobes also important in some infections, e.g. C. tetanii and C. perfringens important in deep puncture wound infections


  • Also microaerophiles like enzymes they possess.Campylobacter jejuni very important in medial terms

  • For proper diagnosis and for studies of anaerobic environments culture techniques are desirable


  • Culture of anaerobes is extremely difficult due to the need to exclude oxygen, slow growth and complex growth requirements

  • Molecular methods based on DNA analysis and direct microscopy have shown that we are largely ignorant of the microbial world and previously unknown diversity has been discovered


Microbial numbers in natural environments
Microbial Numbers in Natural Environments to exclude oxygen, slow growth and complex growth requirements


Culture methods
Culture methods to exclude oxygen, slow growth and complex growth requirements

  • Anaerobes differ in their sensitivity to oxygen and the culture methods employed reflect this - some are simple and suitable for less sensitive organisms, others more complex but necessary for fastidious anaerobes

  • Vessels filled to the top with culture medium can be used for organisms not too sensitive


  • Most common adaptation of media is the addition of a reducing agent, e.g. thioglycollate, cysteine

  • Acts to reduce the oxygen to water, brings down the redox potential -300mV or less.

  • Can add a redox indicator such as rezazurin, pink in the presence of oyxgen - colourless in its absence



Redox potential organism is anaerobic/facultative or aerobic

+500 mV

- 300 mV


  • Pyrogallic acid-sodium hydroxide method can be used, again relies on a chemical reaction to generate an anaerobic environment, but a catalyst rather than a reducing agent

  • Anaerobic jars (GasPak System) are sued to incubate plates in an anaerobic atmosphere, useful if brief exposure to oxygen is not lethal


P. aeruginosa relies on a chemical reaction to generate an anaerobic environment, but a catalyst rather than a reducing agent Strict aerobe

Enterococcus Facultative

Grows aerobic or anaerobic.

Bacteriodes fragilis


Culture of strict anaerobes
Culture of strict anaerobes relies on a chemical reaction to generate an anaerobic environment, but a catalyst rather than a reducing agent

  • For culture of strict anaerobes all traces of oxygen must be removed from medium and for many organisms sample must be kept entirely anaerobic during manipulations

  • Methanogenic archaea from rumen and sewage treatment plants killed by even a brief exposure to O2

  • Medium usually boiled during preparation and reducing agent added, stored under O2-free atmosphere


  • Manipulations usually carried out under a jet of O relies on a chemical reaction to generate an anaerobic environment, but a catalyst rather than a reducing agent2-free N2 or N2/CO2 to exclude O2

  • Roll-tube (Hungate) method often used instead of conventional plates for isolation and culture of strict anaerobes


1.Exclude oxygen by flushing the tube with the desired gas relies on a chemical reaction to generate an anaerobic environment, but a catalyst rather than a reducing agent

2. Place 4.5ml of pre-reduced anaerobic agar medium into tube

3. Seal the tube with the butyl rubber stopper and screw cap

4.Autoclave the tube

5.Inoculate with a syringe

6.Prepare on roll tube spinner

7.Incubate in water bath



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