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Biotech Histochem. 2001 May;76(3):111-8.

Use of the gram stain in microbiology.

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Department of Microbiology, College of Biological Science, University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.


The Gram stain differentiates bacteria into two fundamental varieties of cells. Bacteria that retain the initial crystal violet stain (purple) are said to be "gram-positive," whereas those that are decolorized and stain red with carbol fuchsin (or safranin) are said to be "gram-negative." This staining response is based on the chemical and structural makeup of the cell walls of both varieties of bacteria. Gram-positives have a thick, relatively impermeable wall that resists decolorization and is composed of peptidoglycan and secondary polymers. Gram-negatives have a thin peptidoglycan layer plus an overlying lipid-protein bilayer known as the outer membrane, which can be disrupted by decolorization. Some bacteria have walls of intermediate structure and, although they are officially classified as gram-positives because of their linage, they stain in a variable manner. One prokaryote domain, the Archaea, have such variability of wall structure that the Gram stain is not a useful differentiating tool.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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