Risks of Growing Bacteria
Name: Bashir N.
What are the risks involved in growing bacteria on a agar
As long as the bacteria stays on the plate there should be very little risk.
Treat the cultures with respect, use aseptic technique when handling them.
Dispose of them properly by either autoclaving or soaking them in 10% bleach
for a few days and you should be fine. I wouldn't recommend using cultures
of pathogens though, just for safety's sake.
The risk depends on what bacteria you grow. If these
are non-pathogenic (that means they can not cause
disease) there is no risk involved. If the bacteria
are pathogenic (can cause disease) the handler has to
take care not to get infected. That means not to get
in touch with the bacterial growth (don't touch the
surface of the agar with your hands), don't inhale
aerosols (work in a ventilation cupboard), and
sterilize the plates after use, so that the bacteria
are not released in the environment.
This is Good
Laboratory Practice (GLP) and, depending on the
pathogenicity of the organism (how serious is the
disease they can cause) extra biosafety levels are
added. For instance, the room in which the experiments
are conducted may have an atmosphere of
under-pressure, so that any organisms that are
released can not leave that room. If you'd be working
at the highest biosafety level, you'd be wearing
protective clothing and a shower were required before
leaving the lab. But most bacteria are not, or only
Curator of the Virtual Museum of Bacteria
Usually, there are minimal risks to people growing bacteria on a plate,
because the laboratories where you grow them are set up to make sure that
human health is protected. In class room settings, usually the instructors
make sure that students are careful and also that the bacteria you work
with are not those that cause disease. Additionally, all the infective
materials are autoclaved to kill the organisms before they leave the
laboratory. Otherwise, it could be hazardous, especially for laboratories
that work to diagnose human and animal diseases. When bacteria are grown
on agar, they are in higher concentrations and when plates are opened,
there is the potential that some of the bacteria, fungi or their spores
could be in the air and expose the people working with the agar plates if
the laboratory is not properly equipped.
University of Nebraska
Any bacteria can be a pathogen. Growing them in cultures is a little more
dangerous because they are concentrated. Treat every bacterial culture with
the same aseptic technique and caution.
Peter Faletra Ph.D.
Office of Science
Department of Energy
Click here to return to the Molecular Biology Archives
Update: June 2012