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Colony characteristics of e.coli

Updated February 21, 2017

Microbiology lab courses commonly use Escherichia coli, better known as E. coli, as a study organism. In the microbiology lab, students identify bacteria based on a variety of physical and reactive characteristics. They often describe the morphology, or form, of the bacterial colonies as an important first step in the identification process.

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Some bacteria produce vivid pigments, colouring their colonies red, purple, yellow or even black. Unlike these bacteria, E. coli lacks pigment altogether, although the shiny surface of the colony usually appears slightly whitish when it grows on plain agar. As the colony ages, the colour of the centre may darken slightly.


Bacterial colonies exhibit a variety of shapes and textures ranging from round to filamentous. However, E. coli colonies possess a rather nondescript appearance. The round colonies maintain both an entire margin (i.e., continuous, smooth) and a smooth surface.


Bacterial colonies also display a variety of forms of elevation, ranging from simple convex to umbonate forms raised only in the centre. Colonies of E. coli show a basic, convex elevation form that is as nondescript as the colony shape.

Growth Pattern

Some bacteria exhibit subtle growth patterns. Colonies of E. coli demonstrate a periodic growth pattern, growing in waves that result in concentric growth rings in the colony. Students may detect these rings under microscopic examination.

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About the Author

Emmalise Mac has been writing professionally since 2006 and her work has been published online, in newsletters, newspapers and scientific journals and in wildlife guidebooks. She has published on topics including wildlife, pets and pet health, science, gardening, outdoor activities and crafts. She holds Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in biology.

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