Growth rates made easy

Mol Biol Evol. 2014 Jan;31(1):232-8. doi: 10.1093/molbev/mst187. Epub 2013 Oct 28.


In the 1960s-1980s, determination of bacterial growth rates was an important tool in microbial genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, and microbial physiology. The exciting technical developments of the 1990s and the 2000s eclipsed that tool; as a result, many investigators today lack experience with growth rate measurements. Recently, investigators in a number of areas have started to use measurements of bacterial growth rates for a variety of purposes. Those measurements have been greatly facilitated by the availability of microwell plate readers that permit the simultaneous measurements on up to 384 different cultures. Only the exponential (logarithmic) portions of the resulting growth curves are useful for determining growth rates, and manual determination of that portion and calculation of growth rates can be tedious for high-throughput purposes. Here, we introduce the program GrowthRates that uses plate reader output files to automatically determine the exponential portion of the curve and to automatically calculate the growth rate, the maximum culture density, and the duration of the growth lag phase. GrowthRates is freely available for Macintosh, Windows, and Linux. We discuss the effects of culture volume, the classical bacterial growth curve, and the differences between determinations in rich media and minimal (mineral salts) media. This protocol covers calibration of the plate reader, growth of culture inocula for both rich and minimal media, and experimental setup. As a guide to reliability, we report typical day-to-day variation in growth rates and variation within experiments with respect to position of wells within the plates.

Keywords: adaptation; fitness; growth rates.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteriological Techniques
  • Culture Media / chemistry
  • Phenotype
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Software*


  • Culture Media