bacterial growth curve

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bacterial growth curve A curve on a graph that shows the changes in size of a bacterial population over time in a culture. The bacteria are cultured in sterile nutrient medium and incubated at the optimum temperature for growth. Samples are removed at intervals and the number of viable bacteria is counted. A logarithmic growth curve is plotted, which shows various phases (see graph).

In the lag (or latent) phase there is only a small increase in numbers as the bacteria imbibe water, and synthesize ribosomal RNA and subsequently enzymes, in adjusting to the new conditions. The length of this phase depends on which medium was used to culture the bacteria before the investigation and which phase the cells are already in. As the life span (generation time) of the cells decreases, they enter the log (or exponential) phase, in which the cells reach a maximum rate of reproduction and the number of bacteria increases directly with time, giving a straight slope on a logarithmic scale (see exponential growth). For example, the fastest generation time for E. coli is 21 minutes. Growth rate can be estimated in this phase. With time, as the population grows, it enters the stationary phase, when the nutrients and electron acceptors are depleted and the pH drops as carbon dioxide and other waste poisons accumulate. As the cell's energy stores are depleted the rate of cell division decreases. The death (or final) phase occurs when the rate at which the bacteria die exceeds the rate at which they are produced; the population declines as the levels of nutrients fall and toxin levels increase. See also population growth.