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Streaking (microbiology)

In microbiology, Streaking is a technique used to isolate a pure strain from a single species of microorganism, often bacteria. Samples can then be taken from the resulting colonies and a microbiological culture can be grown on a new plate so that the organism can be identified, studied, or tested.
The streaking is done using a sterile tool, such as a cotton swab or commonly an inoculation loop. This is dipped in an inoculum such as a broth or patient specimen containing many species of bacteria.
The sample is spread across one quadrant of a petri dish containing a growth medium, usually an agar plate which has been sterilized in an autoclave. Choice of which growth medium is used depends on which microorganism is being cultured, or selected for. Growth media are usually forms of agar, a gelatinous substance derived from seaweed.
The quadrant which is first inoculated will contain too many bacteria to select one colony. By re-sterilising the loop and dragged it across the previously inoculated quadrant, only some of the original sample is introduced to new sections of the plate. The loop is re-sterilised and a new quadrant inoculated in the same manner. Each time the loop gathers fewer and fewer bacteria until it gathers just single bacterial cells that can grow into a colony.
Dependant on the strain, the plate may then be incubated, usually for 24 to 36 hours, to allow the bacteria to reproduce. At the end of incubation there should be enough bacteria to form visible colonies in the areas touched by the inoculation loop. From these mixed colonies, single bacterial or fungal species can be identified based on their morphological (size/shape/colour) differences, and then sub-cultured to a new media plate to yield a pure culture for further analysis.
Automated equipments are used at industrial level for streak plating the solid media in order to achieve better sterilization and consistency of streaking and for reliably faster work. While streaking manually it is important to avoid scratching the solid medium as subsequent streak lines will be damaged and non-uniform deposition of inoculum at damaged sites on the medium yield clustered growth of microbes which may extend into nearby streak lines.

See also

Bacterial lawn


  • Black, Jacquelyn G. Microbiology: Principles and Explorations Marymount University, 1999

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