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Tag words: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Pseudomonas, P. aeruginosa, aerobic bacteria, opportunistic pathogen, nosocomial infection, swimmer's ear, hot tub itch, cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, urinary tract infection, antibiotic resistance, fluorescent pigment, biofilm, quorum sensing

Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Kingdom: Bacteria
Phylum: Proteobacteria
Class: Gamma Proteobacteria
Order: Pseudomonadales
Family: Pseudomonadadaceae
Genus: Pseudomonas
Species: aeruginosa








Kenneth Todar currently teaches Microbiology 100 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His main teaching interest include general microbiology, bacterial diversity, microbial ecology and pathogenic bacteriology.

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Pseudomonas aeruginosa   (page 1)

(This chapter has 4 pages)

© Kenneth Todar, PhD



Gram stain of Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is member of the Gamma Proteobacteria class of Bacteria. It is a Gram-negative, aerobic rod belonging to the bacterial family Pseudomonadaceae. Since the revisionist taxonomy based on conserved macromolecules (e.g. 16S ribosomal RNA) the family includes only members of the genus Pseudomonas which are cleaved into eight groups. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the type species of its group. which contains 12 other members.

Like other members of the genus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a free-living bacterium, commonly found in soil and water. However, it occurs regularly on the surfaces of plants and occasionally on the surfaces of animals. Members of the genus are well known to plant microbiologists because they are one of the few groups of bacteria that are true pathogens of plants. In fact, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is occasionally a pathogen of plants. However, Pseudomonas aeruginosa has become increasingly recognized as an emerging opportunistic pathogen of clinical relevance. Several different epidemiological studies track its occurrence as a nosocomial pathogen and indicate that antibiotic resistance is increasing in clinical isolates.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an opportunistic pathogen, meaning that it exploits some break in the host defenses to initiate an infection. In fact, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the epitome of an opportunistic pathogen of humans. The bacterium almost never infects uncompromised tissues, yet there is hardly any tissue that it cannot infect if the tissue defenses are compromised in some manner. It causes urinary tract infections, respiratory system infections, dermatitis, soft tissue infections, bacteremia, bone and joint infections, gastrointestinal infections and a variety of systemic infections, particularly in patients with severe burns and in cancer and AIDS patients who are immunosuppressed. Pseudomonas aeruginosa infection is a serious problem in patients hospitalized with cancer, cystic fibrosis, and burns. The case fatality rate in these patients is near 50 percent.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is primarily a nosocomial pathogen. According to the CDC, the overall incidence of P. aeruginosa infections in U.S. hospitals averages about 0.4 percent (4 per 1000 discharges), and the bacterium is the fourth most commonly-isolated nosocomial pathogen accounting for 10.1 percent of all hospital-acquired infections.

Characteristics

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a Gram-negative rod measuring 0.5 to 0.8 µm by 1.5 to 3.0 µm. Almost all strains are motile by means of a single polar flagellum.

The bacterium is ubiquitous in soil and water, and on surfaces in contact with soil or water. Its metabolism is respiratory and never fermentative, but it will grow in the absence of O2 if NO3 is available as a respiratory electron acceptor.

The typical Pseudomonas bacterium in nature might be found in a biofilm, attached to some surface or substrate, or in a planktonic form, as a unicellular organism, actively swimming by means of its flagellum. Pseudomonas is one of the most vigorous, fast-swimming bacteria seen in hay infusions and pond water samples.

In its natural habitat Pseudomonas aeruginosa is not particularly distinctive as a pseudomonad, but it does have a combination of physiological traits that are noteworthy and may relate to its pathogenesis.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa has very simple nutritional requirements. It is often observed "growing in distilled water", which is evidence of its minimal nutritional needs. In the laboratory, the simplest medium for growth of Pseudomonas aeruginosa consists of acetate as a source of carbon and ammonium sulfate as a source of nitrogen.

P. aeruginosa possesses the metabolic versatility for which pseudomonads are so renowned. Organic growth factors are not required, and it can use more than seventy-five organic compounds for growth.

• Its optimum temperature for growth is 37 degrees, and it is able to grow at temperatures as high as 42 degrees.

• It is tolerant to a wide variety of physical conditions, including temperature. It is resistant to high concentrations of salts and dyes, weak antiseptics, and many commonly used antibiotics.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa has a predilection for growth in moist environments, which is probably a reflection of its natural existence in soil and water.

These natural properties of the bacterium undoubtedly contribute to its ecological success as an opportunistic pathogen. They also help explain the ubiquitous nature of the organism and its prominence as a nosocomial pathogen.

P. aeruginosa isolates may produce three colony types. Natural isolates from soil or water typically produce a small, rough colony. Clinical samples, in general, yield one or another of two smooth colony types. One type has a fried-egg appearance which is large, smooth, with flat edges and an elevated appearance. Another type, frequently obtained from respiratory and urinary tract secretions, has a mucoid appearance, which is attributed to the production of alginate slime. The smooth and mucoid colonies are presumed to play a role in colonization and virulence.


Pseudomonas aeruginosa colonies on agar

P. aeruginosa strains produce two types of soluble pigments, the fluorescent pigment pyoverdin and the blue pigment pyocyanin. The latter is produced abundantly in media of low-iron content and functions in iron metabolism in the bacterium. Pyocyanin (from "pyocyaneus") refers to "blue pus", which is a characteristic of suppurative infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa.


The soluble blue pigment pyocyanin is produced by many, but not all, strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa



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Kenneth Todar is an emeritus lecturer at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Hehas taught microbiology to undergraduate students at The University of Texas, University of Alaska and University of Wisconsin since 1969.

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