Critical to the development of microbiology during its 'golden age' was the advance in culturing techniques, enabling the isolation and pure culture of specific microorganisms. The study of pure cultures made it possible to determine the properties of a specific organism such as its metabolic characteristics or its ability to cause a particular disease. It also opened up the possibility of classifying microorganisms, on the basis of the characteristics they display in pure culture.
The artificial culture of any organism requires a supply of the necessary nutrients, together with the provision of appropriate conditions such as temperature, pH and oxygen concentration. The nutrients and conditions provided in the laboratory are usually a reflection of those found in the organism's natural habitat. It is also essential that appropriate steps are taken to avoid contamination (Box 4.1). In the next section we shall describe the techniques used to isolate and propagate microorganisms in the laboratory. The section refers specifically to the culture of bacteria; laboratory propagation of algae, fungi and viruses will be referred to in the chapters devoted to those groups.
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