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Plastic from bacteria

Staining for PHB
1. Flame the loop and allow it to cool. Remove the cap from the culture bottle, ame the neck, remove a loopful of broth, ame the neck again and replace the cap. Spread the culture on a clean, grease-free slide, using the loop. The smear should cover an area about 10 mm x 30 mm. Flame the loop. Allow the smear to dry in the air. Fix the smear by holding the slide with forceps and passing it horizontally through a small Bunsen ame 23 times. Do not overheat the slide. Fixing kills the bacteria by coagulating the cytoplasm. It also sticks them to the slide. Place a few drops of Sudan Black solution on the xed preparation. After 510 minutes the ethanol in the stain should have evaporated. Any excess liquid can be carefully drawn off using the edge of a piece of lter paper. Immerse the slide in xylene until it is completely decolorized (this takes about 10 seconds). Allow the slide to dry. Flood the slide with the counterstain, Safranine solution. After 10 seconds, gently rinse the slide with running water and allow it to dry again. When the slide is completely dry add a drop of immersion oil directly to the slide (no cover slip is needed). Examine with an oil immersion lens. The PHB can be seen as very dark granules inside pink cells.

POLY--HYDROXYBUTYRATE (PHB) is an energy reserve polyester naturally accumulated by a wide variety of microorganisms. This plastic can comprise up to 70% of the dry weight of some species. The build-up of PHB during growth on carbohydrates is promoted by phosphorus or nitrogen limitation. Unfortunately it is not possible to produce large quantities PHB in the school laboratory. However, the accumulation of PHB inside bacterial cells can be observed if a sufciently high-powered microscope (with an oil immersion lens) is available.



Culture of Alcaligenes eutrophus (available from Philip Harris Limited) Half strength nutrient broth Sudan Black B stain (0.3% in 70% ethanol) Safranine stain (0.5% in water) Xylene (dimethylbenzene see safety note below) Universal bottle and incubation facilities (25C) or a fermenter e.g. NCBE Bioreactor in which to culture microbes Microscope with oil immersion objective (at least x100) Forceps, inoculating loop, Bunsen burner etc.

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Byrom, J. and Byrom, D. (1991) Biopol Natures plastic NCBE Newsletter Summer 1991. pp. 911. A broader perspective is provided in: Whatever happened to bioplastics? by Hannah Pearce Scientific European pp.1417. (Supplement to Scientific American, December 1990) Practical work suitable for undergraduates is suggested in: Huisman, L. A. (1982) Isolation and identification of the reserve material of Bacillus megaterium, in Sourcebook of experiments for the teaching of microbiology, Primrose and Wardlaw (Eds), pp. 233241, Academic Press.

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Practical details
Growing the bacteria

Safety After complete utilisation of the nitrogen in the nutrient broth, the bacteria can no longer grow and energy derived from the sugar in the medium is used for the production of Standard microbiological safety procedures, including aseptic the reserve material, PHB. Sufcient bacteria for staining techniques, must be observed by teachers, technicians and may be conveniently cultured in McCartney bottles or in an students when carrying out this work. NCBE Bioreactor. Teachers in England and Wales are referred to:Microbiology. 1. Aseptically transfer a loopful of Alcaligenes An HMI guide for schools and further education(1990) eutrophus from a slope to a Universal bottle HMSO [Second Edition] , as well as any safety guidelines containing 20 cm3 of half-strength nutrient broth. produced by their LEA and / or school governing body. Alternatively, prepare an inoculum and fermenter for larger scale cultivation. Xylene (dimethylbenzene) is highly ammable and produces 2. Incubate the bacteria at 25C for 48 hours. a toxic vapour. It should be used with care, in a fume cupboard. Plastic Petri dishes will dissolve in xylene! Further activities
1. Bacillus megaterium (available from Philip Harris Limited) also produces PHB in nutrient-limiting conditions. It has much larger cells than Alcaligenes, and is therefore easier to examine under a microscope but this still requires an oil immersion lens. Investigate the effect of adding sterile glucose solution to the bacterial growth medium once the bacteria have exhausted the nitrogen supply.


Plastic from bacteria

4. Remove a loopful of culture from the bottle.

5. Flame the bottle neck again and replace the top.


Flame a wire loop. Remove the cap from the culture bottle.

3. Flame the neck of the culture bottle.


7. Flame the loop again.

6. Spread the culture onto a clean, greasefree slide.

8. Allow the smear on the slide to dry, then heat fix it by passing it through a flame a few times.

9. Place a few drops of Sudan Black solution onto the slide.

10. Leave for 510 minutes.

glass Petri dish

11. Decolorize the slide in xylene. CAUTION! Xylene is flammable and produces toxic fumes.

13. Add Safranine solution to the slide.


0.3% aqueous solution

After 10 seconds, gently rinse the stain off with running water.

14. When the slide is completely dry, examine it using a microscope fitted with an oil immersion lens.
National Centre for Biotechnology Education, 1995

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