Gram-Positive Organisms Recovered From Culture

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The page below is a sample from the LabCE course Reading Gram Stained Smears From Cultures. Access the complete course and earn ASCLS P.A.C.E.-approved continuing education credits by subscribing online.

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Gram-Positive Organisms Recovered From Culture

Depending on the culture medium (liquid or solid) used to isolate the organism, certain cellular arrangements may not be noted. The Gram stain morphology is often less characteristic when smears are prepared from colonies growing on the agar surface. The information contained in the table can still prove helpful, especially for isolates recovered from broth.

Oxygen Requirement/Gram Stain CharacteristicsCommon GenusCharacteristic Gram Stain Morphology/Comments
Aerobic, gram-positive cocci (GPC)Staphylococcus
  • Staphylococcus species: GPC in clusters or tetrads.
  • Streptococcus species: GPC in singles, pairs, or short to long chains.
  • S. pneumoniae: GPC in pairs that are lancet-shaped, occasionally with a capsule that appears as a "halo" surrounding the organisms.
Aerobic, gram-positive rods (GPRs)Bacillus
  • Bacillus, Lactobacillus, and Mycobacterium species RARELY exhibit a diphtheroid or "picket-fence" morphology.
  • Bacillus: Large GPRs, often in pairs or chains, with rounded or square ends and usually a single endospore. The location of the spore is different in various species. Characteristically, Bacillus species tend to stain gram-negative as they age.
  • Lactobacillus: Long, slender GPRs, often in long chains like spaghetti.
  • Nocardia: Branching, long, thin filaments. May demonstrate the diphtheroid appearance; tend to stain with a beaded, gram-variable pattern.
    Anaerobic, GPRsClostridium
    • Clostridium species RARELY exhibit a diphtheroidal morphology. They are large, "box-car" shaped bacilli that may contain spores. May decolorize easily, appearing to be gram-negative.
    • Actinomyces is a thin, filamentous (branching) GPR that can demonstrate a diphtheroidal appearance.
    Facultative anaerobic, GPRsListeria
    • These organisms can demonstrate a diphtheroid or "picket-fence" arrangement.
    • Listeria: Short, coccobacillus
    • Erysipelothrix: Short, slender, slightly curved, and sometimes forming long filaments.
    • Corynebacterium: Small, palisading GPRs