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Tag words: bacterial nutrition, bacterial growth, culture medium, selective medium, minimal medium, enrichment medium, synthetic medium, defined medium, complex medium, fastidious organism, aerobe, anaerobe, obligate anaerobe, facultative anaerobe, aerotolerant anaerobe, superoxide dismutase, catalase, psychrophile, thermophile, extreme thermophile, acidophile, alkalophile, osmophile, osmotolerant, water activity.










Kenneth Todar currently teaches Microbiology 100 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His main teaching interests include general microbiology, bacterial diversity, microbial ecology and pathogenic bacteriology.

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Nutrition and Growth of Bacteria (page 2)

(This chapter has 6 pages)

© Kenneth Todar, PhD

Growth Factors

This simplified scheme for use of carbon, either organic carbon or CO2, ignores the possibility that an organism, whether it is an autotroph or a heterotroph, may require small amounts of certain organic compounds for growth because they are essential substances that the organism is unable to synthesize from available nutrients. Such compounds are called growth factors.

Growth factors are required in small amounts by cells because they fulfill specific roles in biosynthesis. The need for a growth factor results from either a blocked or missing metabolic pathway in the cells. Growth factors are organized into three categories.

1. purines and pyrimidines: required for synthesis of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA)

2. amino acids: required for the synthesis of proteins

3. vitamins: needed as coenzymes and functional groups of certain enzymes

Some bacteria (e.g. E. coli) do not require any growth factors: they can synthesize all essential purines, pyrimidines, amino acids and vitamins, starting with their carbon source, as part of their own intermediary metabolism. Certain other bacteria (e.g. Lactobacillus) require purines, pyrimidines, vitamins and several amino acids in order to grow. These compounds must be added in advance to culture media that are used to grow these bacteria. The growth factors are not metabolized directly as sources of carbon or energy, rather they are assimilated by cells to fulfill their specific role in metabolism. Mutant strains of bacteria that require some growth factor not needed by the wild type (parent) strain are referred to as auxotrophs. Thus, a strain of E. coli that requires the amino acid tryptophan in order to grow would be called a tryptophan auxotroph and would be designated E. coli trp-



Figure 1. Cross-feeding between Staphylococcus aureus and Haemophilus influenzae growing on blood agar. © Gloria J. Delisle and Lewis Tomalty, Queens University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Licensed for use by ASM Microbe Library http://www.microbelibrary.org. Haemophilus influenzae was first streaked on to the blood agar plate followed by a cross streak with Staphylococcus aureusH. influenzae is a fastidious bacterium which requires both hemin and NAD for growth. There is sufficient hemin in blood for growth of Haemophilus, but the medium is insufficient in NAD. S. aureus produces NAD in excess of its own needs and secretes it into the medium, which supports the growth of Haemophilus as satellite colonies.

Some vitamins that are frequently required by certain bacteria as growth factors are listed in Table 3. The function(s) of these vitamins in essential enzymatic reactions gives a clue why, if the cell cannot make the vitamin, it must be provided exogenously in order for growth to occur.


Table 3. Common vitamins required in the nutrition of certain bacteria.

Vitamin Coenzyme form Function
p-Aminobenzoic acid (PABA) Precursor for the biosynthesis of folic acid
Folic acid Tetrahydrofolate Transfer of one-carbon units and required for synthesis of thymine, purine bases, serine, methionine and pantothenate
Biotin Biotin Biosynthetic reactions that require CO2 fixation
Lipoic acid Lipoamide Transfer of acyl groups in oxidation of keto acids
Mercaptoethane-sulfonic acid Coenzyme M CH4 production by methanogens
Nicotinic acid NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) and NADP Electron carrier in dehydrogenation reactions
Pantothenic acid Coenzyme A and the Acyl Carrier Protein (ACP) Oxidation of keto acids and acyl group carriers in metabolism
Pyridoxine (B6) Pyridoxal phosphate Transamination, deamination, decarboxylation and racemation of amino acids
Riboflavin (B2) FMN (flavin mononucleotide) and FAD (flavin adenine dinucleotide) Oxidoreduction reactions
Thiamine (B1) Thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) Decarboxylation of keto acids and transaminase reactions
Vitamin B12 Cobalamine coupled to adenine nucleoside Transfer of methyl groups
Vitamin K Quinones and napthoquinones Electron transport processes


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Kenneth Todar is an emeritus lecturer at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught microbiology to undergraduate students at The University of Texas, University of Alaska and University of Wisconsin since 1969.

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