By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are pathogens to both man and other mammals. They are gram positive bacteria that are small round in shape (cocci) and occur as clusters appearing like a bunch of grapes on electron microscopy.
Microbiology of Staphylococcus:-
Staphylococcus were earlier divided into two groups on the basis of their ability to clot blood plasma. The coagulase-positive staphylococci constitute the most pathogenic species S aureus. The coagulase-negative staphylococci (CNS) are now known to comprise over 30 other species. It is the CNS that is present as harmless bacteria on skin but some of these may cause infections as well.
These days coagulase reaction is no longer used to classify S.aureus. This is because coagulase is a marker for S aureus but there is no direct evidence that it is a virulence factor. Nevertheless, the term is still in widespread use among clinical microbiologists.
Proteins and virulence
S. aureus expresses certain proteins and polysaccharides on its surface. This is correlated with virulence. Virulence is the effect of many factors expressed during infection. The bacteria also produce certain toxins. In the body antibodies neutralize staphylococcal toxins and enzymes.
Taxonomy and naming conventions
At least 30 species of staphylococci have been recognized by biochemical analysis. This is especially so with DNA-DNA hybridization. Of these, 11 are found in humans as harmless bacteria on skin, in the nose and throat. These can cause disease and infections in certain situations.
Identifications under the microscope
These bacteria are Gram-positive cocci about 0.5 – 1.0 μm in diameter. They are present as grape like clusters. They may also occur in pairs and occasionally in short chains. The clusters arise because staphylococci divide in two planes. This clustering helps to distinguish staphylococci from streptococci, which usually grow in chains.
Growing on solid medium colonies of S. aureus these appear as golden clumps.
This test helps to distinguish between streptococci (that is catalase-negative) and staphylococci (which are catalase positive). On an agar slant or broth culture of the bacteria several drops of 3% hydrogen peroxide are applied. Catalase-positive cultures bubble at once. This cannot be done on blood agar since blood itself will produce bubbles.
Identification of S.aureus
After sample from the lesions are taken, they can be stained with Gram stain. S. Aureus is Gram positive. The organism from the clinical specimen from blood culture or pus is then streaked over solid media such as blood agar, tryptic soy agar or heart infusion agar. If the specimen is suspected to be contaminated it is plated on mannitol salt agar containing 7.5% sodium chloride.
Another test is production of thermostable deoxyribonuclease. S aureus can be confirmed by testing colonies for agglutination with latex particles coated with immunoglobulin G and fibrinogen which bind protein A and the clumping factor, respectively.
Microscopically cells occur singly and in pairs, short chains, and grape-like clusters. The cell wall of the bacteria contains teichoic acid. Ribitol teichoic acid (Polysaccharide A) is present in Staphylococcus aureus. Protein A uniformly coats surface of S. aureus and is usually oxidase negative.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Dec 9, 2012