Nutritional Factors that Influence Microbial Growth

Growth of any bacterium depends not only on a suitable physical environment, but also an available source of chemicals to use as nutrients. From these, the cell must synthesize all of the cell components discussed in chapter 3, including lipid membranes, cell walls, proteins, and nucleic acids. These components are made from building blocks such as fatty acids, sugars, amino

Table 4.3 Representative Functions of the Major Elements



Carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen

Component of cellular constituents including amino acids, lipids, nucleic acids, and sugars.


Component of amino acids and nucleic acids.


Component of some amino acids.


Component of nucleic acids, membrane lipids, and ATP.

Potassium, magnesium, and calcium

Required for the functioning of certain enzymes; additional functions as well.


Part of certain enzymes.

acids, and nucleotides. In turn, each of these building blocks is composed of a variety of elements, including carbon and nitrogen. What sets the prokaryotic world apart from all other forms of life is their remarkable ability to use diverse sources of these elements. For example, prokaryotes are the only organisms able to use atmospheric nitrogen (N2) as a nitrogen source.

Required Elements

Elements that make up cell constituents are called major elements. These include carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. They are the essential components of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, and nucleic acids (table 4.3). ■ elements, p. 18

The source of carbon, the most abundant of the major elements, distinguishes different groups of prokaryotes. Those that use organic carbon are called heterotrophs (hetero means "different" and troph means "nourishment"). Medically important bacteria typically use an organic source of carbon such as glucose. Autotrophs (auto means "self") use inorganic carbon in the form of carbon dioxide as their carbon source. They play a critical role in the cycling of carbon in the environment because they can convert inorganic carbon (CO2) to an organic form, the process of carbon fixation. Without carbon fixation, the earth would quickly run out of organic carbon, which is essential to humans and other animals. ■ carbon cycle, p. 774

In addition to carbon, organisms require that the other major elements be supplied in a form they can use. Most microorganisms can use inorganic salts as a source of each of these elements. For example, ammonium sulfate supplies both nitrogen and sulfur. Some prokaryotes can convert inorganic nitrogen gas (N2) to ammonia, the process of nitrogen fixation. Like carbon fixation, this process is essential to life on this planet. ■ nitrogen cycling, p. 775

Some elements, termed trace elements, are required in very minute amounts by all cells. They include cobalt, zinc, copper, molybdenum, and manganese. These elements form parts of enzymes or may be required for enzyme function. Very small

4.4 Nutritional Factors that Influence Microbial Growth 91

Table 4.4 Energy and Carbon Sources Used by Different Groups of Prokaryotes

Type Energy Source

Carbon Source






Organic compounds


Inorganic chemicals (H2, NH3, NO2-, Fe2+, H2S)

Good Carb Diet

Good Carb Diet

WHAT IT IS A three-phase plan that has been likened to the low-carbohydrate Atkins program because during the first two weeks, South Beach eliminates most carbs, including bread, pasta, potatoes, fruit and most dairy products. In PHASE 2, healthy carbs, including most fruits, whole grains and dairy products are gradually reintroduced, but processed carbs such as bagels, cookies, cornflakes, regular pasta and rice cakes remain on the list of foods to avoid or eat rarely.

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