Current and past strategies for bacterial culture in clinical microbiology

Clin Microbiol Rev. 2015 Jan;28(1):208-36. doi: 10.1128/CMR.00110-14.


A pure bacterial culture remains essential for the study of its virulence, its antibiotic susceptibility, and its genome sequence in order to facilitate the understanding and treatment of caused diseases. The first culture conditions empirically varied incubation time, nutrients, atmosphere, and temperature; culture was then gradually abandoned in favor of molecular methods. The rebirth of culture in clinical microbiology was prompted by microbiologists specializing in intracellular bacteria. The shell vial procedure allowed the culture of new species of Rickettsia. The design of axenic media for growing fastidious bacteria such as Tropheryma whipplei and Coxiella burnetii and the ability of amoebal coculture to discover new bacteria constituted major advances. Strong efforts associating optimized culture media, detection methods, and a microaerophilic atmosphere allowed a dramatic decrease of the time of Mycobacterium tuberculosis culture. The use of a new versatile medium allowed an extension of the repertoire of archaea. Finally, to optimize the culture of anaerobes in routine bacteriology laboratories, the addition of antioxidants in culture media under an aerobic atmosphere allowed the growth of strictly anaerobic species. Nevertheless, among usual bacterial pathogens, the development of axenic media for the culture of Treponema pallidum or Mycobacterium leprae remains an important challenge that the patience and innovations of cultivators will enable them to overcome.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / growth & development*
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Bacteriological Techniques / history*
  • Bacteriological Techniques / trends*
  • Culture Media
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Microbiology* / history
  • Microbiology* / trends


  • Culture Media