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Laboratory Tools in Microbiology and Their Uses

Updated March 23, 2017

Microbiology focuses on microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses, and their effects on other living organisms. Studying these effects is helpful for developing new medications and cures for illnesses. The tools used in a microbiology lab help scientists carry out their tests and analyse their results.

Petri Dishes

In order to run their tests, scientists need samples of microorganisms, and they need containers in which to hold and study them. Cultures of bacteria are placed in petri dishes or on plates. These containers are made of clear acrylic, circular in shape, with a lip around the edge to prevent a culture from spreading outside the dish. Petri plates also have clear acrylic lids as some bacteria produce airborne spores that travel through our atmosphere and, if breathed in, can be harmful.

Agar

Agar is a food or gel substance added to petri dishes to provide nutrients that bacteria need to grow. Agar can be one of several different materials used for this purpose, including blood, chocolate, and tryptic soy.

Other Culture Tools

To move culture materials, scientists use one or more other tools. One of these tools is called a swab or loop. The loop is a thin metal rod, several inches long with a small metal loop attached at the end. The loop is swiped across the culture to collect microbes to be transferred to another agar-filled petri dish. Pipettes are also used, but instead of removing microbes with a scrape, they have light suction power. The top of the pipette is squeezed while the bottom is placed in the culture. When the top is let go, suction power sucks up microbes into the pipette's hollow shaft.

Microscope

Powerful laboratory microscopes allow microbiologists to examine their cultures at close range since the human eye is obviously limited when it comes to seeing bacteria growing or moving. There are specialised microscopes that help scientists study even the smallest of viruses, such as electron and fluorescent microscopes.

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