Flagella Stain- Principle, Procedure and Result Interpretation
Flagella are long, thin, whip-like appendages that some bacteria use for locomotion. They are important for the identification and classification of bacteria, as they can vary in number, location, and arrangement on the cell surface. However, flagella are too thin and delicate to be seen with a regular light microscope and ordinary stains. Therefore, a special staining technique called flagella stain is used to visualize them.
The objective of flagella stain is to check whether a bacterium is motile or non-motile and to determine its flagellar pattern. This can help in the presumptive identification of motile bacterial species based on their flagellation. For example, some bacteria have a single flagellum at one end (monotrichous), some have multiple flagella at one or both ends (lophotrichous or amphitrichous), some have flagella all over the cell surface (peritrichous), and some have no flagella at all (atrichous). Different types of flagellation can be associated with different genera and species of bacteria. For instance, Escherichia coli is a peritrichous bacterium, Vibrio cholerae is a monotrichous bacterium, and Helicobacter pylori is a lophotrichous bacterium.
Flagella stain is a simple and useful technique when the number and arrangement of flagella are critical for the identification of motile bacteria. However, it requires an experienced laboratory scientist and is not considered an entry-level technique. It also depends on various factors such as the temperature, pH, age of culture, and quality of stain that can affect the stability and visibility of flagella. Therefore, flagella stains should be performed carefully and interpreted cautiously.
Bacterial flagella are thin and delicate structures that extend from the cell membrane and enable motility and chemotaxis. However, they are too thin to be seen with a bright field microscope using ordinary stains, such as the Gram stain or a simple stain. Therefore, a special technique called flagella stain is used to visualize the presence and arrangement of flagella on different bacterial species.
Flagella stain is a wet mount technique that involves applying a mordant and a primary stain to the bacterial cells on a microscope slide. A mordant is a substance that binds to the flagella and increases their diameter by coating them with layers of stain. The most commonly used mordants are tannic acid or aluminum potassium phosphate, and the most commonly used primary stain is crystal violet. The stain also contains an alcoholic solution that evaporates and leaves a precipitate around the flagella, enhancing its visibility.
By staining the flagella, one can observe their presence or absence, as well as their number and location on the bacterial cell. These characteristics can help in the presumptive identification of motile bacterial species, as different bacteria have different types of flagellation. The main types of flagellation are:
- Monotrichous: A single flagellum at one pole of the cell
- Lophotrichous: A tuft of flagella at one or both poles of the cell
- Amphitrichous: One or more flagella at both poles of the cell
- Peritrichous: Flagella distributed all over the cell surface
- Atrichous: No flagella present on the cell
Flagella stain is a simple and useful technique when the number and arrangement of flagella are critical to the identification of motile bacteria. However, it requires an experienced laboratory scientist and careful handling of the bacterial cells, as the flagella are easily damaged or detached by agitation or environmental factors.
The wet mount technique is a simple and useful method for staining bacterial flagella, which are too thin to be seen with ordinary stains under a bright field microscope. This technique involves using a mordant, such as tannic acid or aluminum potassium sulfate, to coat the flagella with layers of stain, such as crystal violet, making them visible. The following steps describe the wet mount technique for flagella stain :
- Grow the organism to be stained at room temperature on blood agar for 16 to 24 hours.
- Add a small drop of water to a microscope slide.
- Dip a sterile inoculating loop into sterile water.
- Touch the loopful of water to the colony margin briefly (this allows motile cells to swim into the droplet of water).
- Touch the loopful of motile cells to the drop of water on the slide. Note: Agitating the loop in the droplet of water on the slide causes the flagella to shear off the cell.
- Cover the faintly turbid drop of water on the slide with a coverslip. A proper wet mount has barely enough liquid to fill the space under a coverslip. Small air spaces around the edge are preferable.
- Examine the slide immediately under 40× to 50× for motile cells. If motile cells are not seen, do not proceed with the stain.
- If motile cells are seen, leave the slide at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes. This allows time for the bacterial cells to adhere to either the glass slide or the coverslip.
- Gently apply 2 drops of RYU flagella stain (Remel, Lenexa, Kansas) to the edge of the coverslip. The stain will flow by capillary action and mix with the cell suspension. Small air pockets around the edge of the wet mount are useful in aiding the capillary action.
- After 5 to 10 minutes at room temperature, examine the cells for flagella.
- Cells with flagella may be observed at 100× (oil) in the zone of optimum stain concentration, about halfway from the edge of the coverslip to the center of the mount.
- Focusing on the cells attached to the coverslip rather than on the cells attached to the slide facilitates visualization of the flagella. The precipitate from the stain is primarily on the slide rather than on the coverslip.
This technique does not produce a permanent mount and should be examined as soon as possible after staining. The stain may precipitate as the wet mount dries, making it difficult to observe the flagella.
After staining the bacterial cells with flagella stain, the following observations can be made under the microscope:
- Presence or absence of flagella: Flagella are visible as thin, hair-like extensions from the bacterial cells. They may appear purple or red, depending on the stain used. Bacteria without flagella will appear as smooth, rounded cells.
- Number of flagella per cell: Bacteria may have one, two, or many flagella per cell. The number of flagella can be counted by carefully observing the stained cells at high magnification.
- Location of flagella per cell: Bacteria may have different arrangements of flagella on their cell surface. The location of flagella can be classified into three types :
- Peritrichous: Flagella are distributed all over the cell surface.
- Lophotrichous: Flagella are clustered at one or both ends of the cell.
- Polar: Flagella are located at one end of the cell only.
- The amplitude of wavelength: Flagella may have different degrees of curvature or bending. The amplitude of wavelength refers to the distance between the peaks or troughs of the curved flagella. Flagella with a high amplitude have a large distance between the peaks or troughs, while flagella with a low amplitude have a small distance. The amplitude of wavelength can be measured by using a ruler or a micrometer on the microscope.
- Whether or not "tufted": Some bacteria have a special arrangement of flagella called tufted. Tufted flagella are multiple flagella that originate from the same point on the cell surface and form a bundle. Tufted flagella can be distinguished from lophotrichous flagella by their density and direction. Tufted flagella are more densely packed and point in the same direction, while lophotrichous flagella are more loosely arranged and point in different directions.
The presence and arrangement of flagella can provide clues to the identification of motile bacterial species. For example, Escherichia coli has peritrichous flagella, Vibrio cholerae has a single polar flagellum, and Helicobacter pylori has tufted flagella. However, flagella stain is not a definitive test for bacterial identification and should be used in conjunction with other biochemical and molecular tests.
Visualization of flagella is a challenging and delicate technique that requires skill and experience. Some of the limitations of the flagella stain are:
- The flagella are very fragile and can be easily broken or detached from the cells by excessive agitation, heat, or drying. Therefore, the wet mount technique must be performed carefully and quickly to preserve the integrity of the flagella.
- The flagella stain is not specific and can also stain other structures, such as fimbriae, pili, or capsules, which can interfere with the observation of the flagella. Therefore, the cells must be examined in the zone of optimum stain concentration, where the flagella are more visible than the background.
- The flagella stain is not suitable for all types of bacteria. Some bacteria have very thin or short flagella that are difficult to stain or see. Other bacteria have too many flagella that can form a dense network that obscures the individual flagella. Therefore, the flagella stain may not provide conclusive results for some bacterial species.
- The flagella stain is not a definitive method for identifying bacterial species. The presence and arrangement of flagella are only one of the characteristics that can be used for presumptive identification. Other tests, such as biochemical, serological, or molecular methods, are needed to confirm the identity of the bacteria.
In summary, the flagella stain is a useful technique for visualizing the presence and arrangement of flagella for motile bacterial species, but it has some limitations that must be considered when interpreting the results. The technique requires careful preparation and execution, as well as experience and expertise in microscopy. The technique may not work well for some types of bacteria or may not provide enough information for definitive identification. Therefore, the flagella stain should be used in conjunction with other methods for bacterial identification.
- Applications of Flagella Stain: Flagella stain is a useful technique for the identification and differentiation of motile bacterial species based on the presence, number, and arrangement of flagella. Flagella stain can also help to reveal the phylogenetic relationships among bacteria, as different groups of bacteria have different types of flagella and basal bodies. Flagella stains can also be used to study the structure and function of bacterial flagella, such as their helical shape, rotation speed, and chemotaxis response. Flagella stain can also be used to detect mutations or alterations in flagellar genes or proteins that affect motility or morphology. Flagella stain can also be used to monitor the expression of flagella in response to environmental conditions or genetic regulation.
Some examples of applications of flagella stain are:
- To distinguish between Salmonella and Shigella species, which are both Gram-negative rods that cause gastrointestinal infections. Salmonella species are motile and have peritrichous flagella, whereas Shigella species are non-motile and lack flagella.
- To identify Vibrio cholera, the causative agent of cholera, which is a Gram-negative curved rod with a single polar flagellum.
- To classify Proteus species, which are Gram-negative rods that exhibit swarming motility on agar plates. Proteus species have peritrichous flagella that vary in number and length depending on the growth phase.
- To study the evolution of bacterial flagella, which are classified into three main types: A, B, and C. Type A flagella are found in most Gram-negative bacteria and some Gram-positive bacteria; type B flagella are found in spirochetes, and type C flagella are found in some aquatic bacteria.
- To investigate the molecular mechanisms of flagellar assembly, rotation, and regulation. For example, a flagellar stain can be used to visualize the effects of mutations or inhibitors on flagellar components, such as the basal body, the hook, the filament, or the motor proteins.
- To explore the role of flagella in bacterial pathogenesis and host interactions. For example, the flagellar stain can be used to examine the expression of flagella by pathogenic bacteria under different environmental conditions or host signals. Flagellar stain can also be used to assess the immune response to flagellar antigens by host cells.
- Applications of Flagella Stain: Flagella stain is a useful technique for the identification and differentiation of motile bacterial species based on the presence, number, and arrangement of flagella. Flagella are important for bacterial survival and growth, as they enable bacteria to move towards favorable conditions and away from harmful ones. Flagella stain can also help to reveal the phylogenetic relationships among bacteria, as flagellar genes are highly conserved and can be used for molecular typing. Flagella stain can also be used to study the structure and function of flagella, as well as their role in bacterial pathogenesis and host response.
Some examples of bacterial species that can be identified by flagella stain are:
- Vibrio cholera: The causative agent of cholera, a severe diarrheal disease. V. cholera has a single polar flagellum (monotrichous) that allows it to swim in aquatic environments and colonize the human intestine.
- Salmonella enterica: A common cause of foodborne infections and typhoid fever. S. enterica has peritrichous flagella (flagella all over the cell surface) that enable it to move across different surfaces and invade host cells.
- Helicobacter pylori: The main cause of peptic ulcers and gastric cancer. H. pylori has multiple polar flagella (lophotrichous) that help it to burrow into the gastric mucosa and evade the acidic environment of the stomach.
- Campylobacter jejuni: A leading cause of bacterial gastroenteritis worldwide. C. jejuni has one or more flagella at both poles (amphitrichous) that allow it to swim through the viscous mucus layer of the intestinal tract and adhere to epithelial cells.
Flagella stain is a simple and useful technique for staining bacterial flagella, but it also has some limitations. It requires an experienced laboratory scientist and a high-quality microscope, as flagella are very thin and delicate structures that can be easily damaged or overlooked. It also depends on the quality of the bacterial culture and the staining reagents, as well as the proper handling of the slides and coverslips. Flagella stain is not a definitive test for bacterial identification, and it should be complemented by other biochemical and molecular tests for confirmation.
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