A number of different dyes can be used to stain cells so they stand out against the unstained background. The Gram stain is by far the most widely used differential stain. The acid-fast stain detects species of Mycobacterium. Specific dyes and techniques can be used to observe cell structures such as capsules, endospores, and flagella. Fluorescent dyes and tags can be used to observe total cells, a subset of cells, or cells that have certain proteins on their surface.

■ What are the functions of a primary stain and a counterstain?

■ Describe one error in the staining procedure that would result in a Gram-positive bacterium appearing pink.

■ What color would a Gram-negative bacterium be in an acid-fast stain?

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