Microbiology Lab Tools

Written by bekah snyder
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Microbiology Lab Tools
Culture tubes are used by microbiologists to isolate and study colonies of microbes. (holder with test tubes image by alma_sacra from Fotolia.com)

Microbiology laboratories contain a set of fundamental tools generally available to any person performing typical microbiology tasks. Transferring liquids from place to place or observing microorganisms under high magnification are simple laboratory chores, common to both professionals and students alike. Generally, it is not until a person reaches the ranks of a specialised microbiologist professional that there is a clear need for more technologically advanced versions of the same generic tools to fit jobs better.


The most generic microscope, often used in schools, is the light compound microscope. Light microscopes of good quality can magnify fungi, algae, and protozoa to as large as 1,000 times their original size. The most appropriate microscope to be used by a microbiologist depends on the size and type of microorganism being studied. For example, microorganisms such as viruses are smaller than a wavelength of visible light (0.2 microns in size) and cannot be viewed using a light microscope. Instead, highly trained microbiologists may resort to using other types of specialised microscopes. Electron microscopes use electrons to view microorganisms. Fluorescent microscopes use ultraviolet light in combination with fluorescent dyes.

Microbiology Lab Tools
Light microscopes, also called compound microscopes, have an ocular lens and an objective lens. (micro image by Andrey Kiselev from Fotolia.com)

Transferring Tools

Microbiologists transfer microscopic cells using tools called inoculating loops and swabs. Microbiologists also handle a number of experimental liquids, which are most commonly transferred from place to place using a tool called a pipette. An inoculating loop has an insulated handle connected to a long nichrome or platinum wire that is twisted into a tiny loop at the tip. Proper technique calls for the loop tip to be sterilised in a flame before transferring microbial cells. A swab consists of a long stick with a round piece of cotton on the end. Swabs perform the same function as inoculating loops, only they are not reusable because of the risk of cross contamination. Inexpensive pipettes used in teaching schools are plastic and draw in liquids through manual suction when a student pinches and releases the top. In higher education and professional fields of microbiology, micropipettes are used. Micropipettes are calibrated instruments that transfer exact volumes of liquids with high accuracy in either millilitres or microliters.

Microbiology Lab Tools
Specialised pipettes can transfer measured liquid volumes as small as a microliter. (syringe image by kromleh from Fotolia.com)

Culturing Containers

Microbiologists often grow--or culture--microbes in a lab in order to study them in a controlled environment or to replicate cells. Microbes are organisms such as archaea, bacteria, fungi, protista, viruses, and microbial mergers. Microbiologists grow microbes in containers called petri plates. If a larger container is needed, flasks or jars can be used. Petri plates and flasks are made of transparent glass or acrylic so that the microbiologist can easily see into the container without removing the lid. Solid food or gel, called agar, is usually added to a petri dish or flask to provide nutrients for the growing microbes. Common types of culturing agars include tryptic soy, MacConkey, blood, chocolate, neomycin, and standard nutrient agar. Flasks can be either bottlenecked or straight. They are commonly used as mixing stations to combine two or more experimental substances, such as for the creation of bacteria-rich environments.

Microbiology Lab Tools
Petri plates are usually palm-sized, shallow, and circular in shape. (Bacteria Colonies image by ggw from Fotolia.com)

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