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Colorful Bacteria

BY: Sonali Bhawsar | Category: Applications | Submitted: 2011-01-29 19:56:00
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Article Summary: "Bacterial pigments are very useful in heavy metal and antibiotic resistance, protection from phagocytosis, radiation, help in survival and also have many industrial applications..."

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Colorful bacteria
Bacteria are pigmented or colored. Pigmented bacteria are also known as chromobacteria. Bacterial pigments are water soluble or insoluble; water soluble pigments are diffused in the growth medium. Chemically, bacterial pigments are pyrrole, phenazine, carotenoid, xanthophylls and quinine or quinone derivatives. The pigment molecules are synthesized in cell wall or periplasmic space. We can visualize pigmentation in bacteria in specific growth medium or by staining bacterial cells with a dye to observe under microscope. It has been proved that only aerobic and facultatively aerobic bacteria are pigmented because, molecular oxygen is essential for pigmentation. Therefore, anaerobic bacteria are nonpigmented. Pigment synthesis is also dependent on light, pH, temperature and media constituents like indicator dyes. They display all the colors from rainbow including light or dark tinges and unusual colors like black, white, brown, golden, silver and fluorescent green, yellow or blue. For example:

Purple: Spirillum rubrum
Violet: Chromobacterium violacein
Indigo: Janthinobacterium lividum
Blue: Streptomyces coelicolor (actinorhodin edible)
Green: Chlorobium tepidum
Yellow: Xanthomonas campestris (xanthomonadins)
Orange: Sarcina aurentiaca
Red: Serratia marcescens (prodigiosin)
Brown: Rhizobium etli
Black: Prevotela melaninogenica
Golden: Staphylococcus aureus
Silver: Actinomyces sp.
White: Staphylococcus epidermidis
Cream: Proteus vulgaris
Pink: Micrococcus roseus
Maroon: Rugamonas rubra
Fluorescent blue/green: Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Pyocyanin)
Fluorescent yellow: Pseudomonas fluorescens (Pyoverdin/fluorescein)

Detection of bacterial pigments on indicator media: Various types of indicator or differential media are used during the culturing of bacteria. These media are made by using suitable pH indicator dyes such as methylene blue, eosin, methyl red and chemicals like sodium sulphite, potassium tellurite, which change color when bacteria are cultured in them. When bacteria are cultured on indicator medium, growth is observed as colored colonies. MacConkey agar, EMB agar, McLeod agar and TCBS agar are some of the examples of routine indicator media used in Microbiology. On MacConkey agar lactose fermenting bacteria show pink pigmented colonies while as lactose non-fermenters are colorless. These media are very useful in identification and biochemical characterization of particular bacteria.

The question arises: Why do bacteria produce pigments?
Pigmentation is very useful for bacteria as well as for our industries. In bacteria, pigment formation is associated with morphological characteristics, cellular activities, pathogenesis, protection and survival. Autotrophic cyanobacteria contain a green colored pigment, known as chlorophyll (similar to plant chlorophyll). They also contain accessory pigments phycobilin and chlorophyll b which are required in photosynthesis. Other photosynthetic bacteria have pigments bacteriochlorophyll, proteorhodopsin and bacteriorhodopsin similar to chlorophyll. It seems that in autotrophic bacteria, pigments are needed to carry out the process of photosynthesis. Pigments of photosynthetic bacteria carry out photosynthesis similarly like plant chlorophyll.
Pigments are produced by bacteria to absorb UV radiation or to quench oxygen free radicals. In both the cases bacterial pigment play important role of the cell protection. Some bacterial pigments are antibiotics which are active against phytopathogenic fungi, bacteria, and yeasts; also active against human pathogenic Gram positive or negative bacteria and fungi. Pigments prodigiosin (Serratia), erythromycin (from Streptomyces), pyocyanin, pyoverdin and pyochelin from Pseudomonas, spirilloxanthin of Spirillum are potent antibiotic pigments.

Bacterial pigments help in survival in stress conditions. For example, in rhizosphere region iron is always present in limited amount; rhizobacteria like pseudomonads produce iron chelating compounds or siderophores. Siderophores scavenge traces of iron and make available to host plant. They also eradicate pathogenic fungi and bacteria by depriving them for iron. Pigments produced by Pseudomonas spp. like pyoverdin and pyochelin act like siderophore. Extremophiles are very colorful. Bright pigmentation of extremophilic bacteria offers protection from oxidative stress. Pigments also maintain membrane integrity and stability. The pigments of extremophiles are also required in respiratory or photosynthetic functions.

Pigments confer antibacterial and heavy metal resistance. Pathogenic staphylococci are multidrug resistant because of their pigment which acts as barrier for antibiotics acting on cell wall and plasma membrane. Bacteria showing heavy metal resistance are usually pigmented as they have been exploited for remediation of soil and water polluted by heavy metals like arsenic, copper, cadmium, mercury and nickel. Pigmented bacteria have also been used as biosensors to detect environmental pollution like oil spills or pesticide and heavy metal recalcitrance.
Many important applications of bacterial pigments are enlisted:

In pathogenesis:
 Resistance to phagocytosis
 Heat resistance and acid stability
 Unpalatability to protozoa
 In vitro antibody formation enhancers
 Antitumor properties

Industrial applications:
 In paint formulations
 Alternatives to color additives of plant origin
 In textile dyeing
 Food colorants
 Source of vitamin A
 In therapeutics
 Indicators of oil spill
 Biosensors and markers of water, soil and air pollution

Taxonomical significance:
Pigments are important characteristics of particular genus and are very helpful in the identification and classification of microorganisms. The best example of pigmentation is Xanthomonas spp. All the species of Xanthomonas produce yellow colored pigments known as xanthomonadins. Taxonomically, xanthomonadin synthesis is an important trait because they have similar chromatographic and absorption spectra which form the basis of classification of xanthomonads.

The molecular genetic studies of pigment synthesis present vital scope for scaling up industrial importance of useful pigmented bacteria.

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Comments on this article: (36 comments so far)

Comment By Comment
2013-08-18 03:57:01 675
very good informatative knowldge.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2013-08-18 22:27:16 676
Manish Thakar
2013-10-21 11:19:20 702
Very informative & interesting too. Thanks with Greetings.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2013-10-28 00:37:23 709
Thank you!
Obinna Ogba
2014-03-25 00:46:53 767
Highly informative, i want to be a member of this informative group. Thanks for this research work.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2014-03-30 01:57:23 771
Thanks Obinna!
rohit sharma
2014-05-31 11:39:47 795
I am interested in growing mass scale manufacturing of edible fiid colours from bacteria or other micribes.kindly assist.and add me as member of this interesting platform. Regards Rohit sharma. Bharat biocon pvt ltd 9770414232
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2014-06-03 04:34:32 796
Dear Rohit, Mass production of algal and microbial pigments (carotenoides) is carried out @ CSIR-CFTRI-central food technology research institute, Mysore. They also provide guidance and probably process technology for development of novel processes, as in your case you want to obtain edible bacterial food coloranr. I advice to refer their website for enquiry or information. I can assisst if you let me know the bacterial genus you would like to work with and what would be the focus of this work: research or development or simply industrial scale up. Best of luck!
Abbu Sofian
2014-06-18 03:52:29 801
Hello great little article, had been searching for some information for along time, it is straight to the point and ery informative. Thanks keep it up
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2014-06-22 22:34:07 804
Thanks a lot!
Sanjeev Chandel
2014-08-05 22:33:44 822
Very good information for the researchers. Keep it up. Best wishes.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2014-08-08 03:51:12 824
Thank you so much!
Zahra Amjad
2015-02-22 06:43:39 912
heyyy... ur article saved me.... mera asignmnt ready hogya :)
2015-03-16 03:12:46 915
very informative knowledge.... thank you.. it helps me a lot ...
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-03-20 00:13:56 918
Thanks Sandhya!
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-03-20 00:15:19 920
Good to know this.. Thanks Zahra!
Sanjana Heda
2015-07-30 03:00:03 959
This is very informative knowledge...I am dealing with my PhD work in airborne microbiology so it's very helpful in the direct identification of airborne bacteria by observing their colours.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-09-29 05:42:00 984
Thanks Sanjana! All the very Best for your research!!!
Sarani Bhattacharya
2015-10-25 11:43:44 991
Hello ma'am, I wanted to know which bacterial and fungal stains could be used for leather coloration? It's part of our final year project
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-11-05 02:40:39 995
Hello, I hope reviews by Velmurugan (2009); Ahmed et al(2011) Parthiban & Thilagavathi (2012) will be useful to you. If you are assessing new pigment producing strains, do check their safety regarding environment & living components of ecosystem. Thanks for showing interest in the article. Good luck!
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2015-11-05 02:47:04 996
Have you checked with Serratia strains? Their pigments are interesting w.r.t. wax-carbohydrate composition, abundant production @ R. T.; color intensity is dependent on temperature conditions during incubation etc. consider safe handling and other measures before you move to scale up with these strains as i said before. Brown and orange mushroom can also be explored as novel pigment producers. I hope this will help you. Thank you.
Dhananjay Desai
2015-12-31 09:23:39 1022
Very good information about bacterial pigments..
2016-01-12 15:10:33 1024
Thank you! I've been looking for some of these comments in one spot. I recalled most of this for College but had a hard time finding all in one spot. Please do more pictures. Great work!
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2016-01-22 07:34:48 1031
Thanks Dhananjay!
2016-02-10 05:57:31 1038
your article is very much helpful, i am microbiologi student and performing microbial art, i tried to culture organism which emit different color on one nutrient medium, and i was having no idea about organism now after reading your article it will little easy to perform task, thank you
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2016-03-22 06:06:13 1049
Thanks Akshay! I hope your art will be more colorful now, please take care while handling the cultures.
Alka Kumari
2016-07-21 09:08:10 1093
This is really very informative ! This helped me to make teaching ppt much better !!!
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2016-07-26 00:39:58 1096
Thanks Alka!
archana limbore
2016-09-20 09:45:53 1112
Iam interested in pigmented bacteria and you gave very useful information.
shrishti kushwaha
2016-10-14 07:41:00 1122
hi, i am a fashion design final year student and i am working on my final project. I want to know how can i use color changing microorganims in my fabric so that it changes color under different conditions. Please its a request do help me, it would benefit me alot. I loved your article!
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2016-10-29 02:09:04 1127
Dear Shrushti, Thanks for your appreciation! Bacterial pigment are sensitive to temperature. We have tried this with the scarlet red pigment of Serratia marcescens. It was found that pigmentation was intense during freeze store and fades @ 37-40C. Trial was also conducted with 2 different cloths: nylon and cotton; color remained on both types even after washing with soap and normal water and iron but comparatively cotton was best to nylon. I hope this information will be of your use. Best of wishes.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2016-10-29 02:12:05 1129
Thanks Archana, I am glad that the article is useful to you. Best of wishes.
2017-02-07 21:32:53 1171
What color does klebsiella pneumoniae and Proteus species give on nutrient agar?
Debananda prusty
2017-04-28 05:35:46 1208
Mam, Its amazing information about colourful bacteria. I am a biotechnology student and i am doing my project work about bacteria isolation and characterization .and i found a green colour bacteria.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2017-05-04 00:13:01 1209
Debananda, Thank you for your appreciation. Great you isolated green pigmented bacteria. Identify their genus and species and functions associated with this green pigment. If green fluorese under uv then one can guess it's Pseudomonas. Best of wishes.
Sonali Bhawsar - Author
2017-05-04 00:16:14 1211

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