The term "aseptic technique" refers to the set of techniques that prevent laboratories or other areas from becoming contaminated by microorganisms or other pathogens. For instance, operating theatres in hospitals follow rigorous aseptic techniques in order to minimise the risk of postoperative infection. In the field of microbiology, aseptic technique is highly important.
The importance of aseptic technique
Aseptic technique is particularly important in a microbiology lab because of the nature of most microbiological experiments. Microbiologists culture the microorganisms they wish to study, often on a nutrient-rich agar jelly or in a liquid nutrient broth. These two media provide everything the microorganisms need. Unfortunately, the same is true of intrusive microorganisms. The very qualities that make these substances useful to scientists also make them highly vulnerable to contamination. As a result, microbiologists must take strict precautions to prevent bacteria, fungi or other contaminants from damaging their experiments.
The umbrella concept of aseptic technique covers a wide range of different laboratory techniques in microbiology. One major area of aseptic technique is the preparation of the lab and its equipment. Bottles, flasks, plates and other lab glassware must be sterilised before use, and lab technicians carefully check reagents and other supplies for evidence of contamination. The work surface itself must also be sterile. The constant sterilisation of microbiology lab equipment is time-consuming and challenging, but it is a vital part of aseptic technique.
Proper aseptic technique calls for a good deal of specialised equipment. Culture cabinets and hoods protect bacterial cultures from outside contamination, as well as keeping the rest of the lab free from contamination by the samples inside them. Pipettes and other tools that come into contact with samples are typically only used once in order to avoid the danger of cross-contamination. Some equipment, such as flasks and dishes, is reusable; this equipment must be handled with extreme care in order to minimise any possible risk of contamination.
One common source for contaminating bacteria in a microbiology lab is the human beings carrying out the experiments. Not only do people entering a lab bring possible contaminants in from outside, but individuals carry bacteria within their bodies that can disrupt an experiment. As a result, individuals working in a microbiology lab always wash their hands and wear protective equipment when working with cell cultures. Good aseptic technique even means that experimenters don't speak while working with microorganisms in order to prevent contamination from their mouths.