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Environ Microbiol. 2009 Jul;11(7):1827-34. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2009.01907.x. Epub 2009 Mar 18.

Effect of gelling agent on colony formation in solid cultivation of microbial community in lake sediment.

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National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Central 6, 1-1-1 Higashi, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8566, Japan.


Since Robert Koch and colleagues found agar to be an effective gelling agent over a century ago, the pure culture method using agar plates has long been a standard of microbiology. Agar is undoubtedly easy to handle and useful for culture of microorganisms, but recent discovery of the ubiquity of microorganisms that cannot be cultured on agar raises a question: is agar really the best agent? In this study, we investigated the effect of two gelling agents, agar and gellan gum, on colony formation of a diverse array of microorganisms (total 108 strains) newly isolated from freshwater sediments and a representative microorganism as a slow grower on agar medium, Gemmatimonas aurantiaca, to clarify (i) whether they can grow on both agar and gellan gum plates, and (ii) the difference in time required for colony formation between the two gelling agents. Interestingly, 22 of 108 isolates showed no ability to form any visible colonies on the agar medium but did so on the gellan gum medium, and showed low 16S rRNA gene sequence similarities to their closest species. The remaining 86 isolates grew on both agar and gellan gum, but 52 of them grew much faster on gellan gum than on agar. Moreover, gellan gum also significantly stimulated the colony formation of the representative slow-growing microorganism G.‚ÄČ aurantiaca. Our results demonstrate that the gelling agent is a crucial factor for the growth of bacteria on plate media, and that alternatives to agar will be very important for increasing the culturability of yet-to-be cultured microorganisms.

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