Burkholderia Cepacia: Identification & Characteristics

Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

Burkholderia cepacia refers to a group of bacteria that can cause infections in the body, most often infecting the lungs. Learn about the characteristics of these bacteria and how to identify them.

Burkholderia Cepacia

Anthony is a 43-year-old waiter who was recently diagnosed with pneumonia. His symptoms have been the typical symptoms of pneumonia, which include constant coughing, shortness of breath, fever, and fatigue. However, yesterday Anthony started to feel even worse. His cough was much more violent, his fever spiked, and his breathing become even more difficult.

Anthony decided to go to the hospital to get checked out. After running several tests on Anthony, the doctor told Anthony he had a lung infection that was separate from the pneumonia. The doctor explained that he had a lung infection caused by Burkholderia cepacia bacteria.

Burkholderia cepacia refers to a group of bacteria that can cause infections in the body, most often infecting the lungs. It is typically found in wet soil and certain rotting plants, such as onions. This type of bacteria can cause damage to the lungs, which can result in very serious complications, even death. B. cepacia most often infects people who are already sick, especially with diseases that affect the lungs, such as pneumonia and cystic fibrosis.

This is a magnified look at Burkholderia cepacia bacteria.

Burkholderia Cepacia: Identification

A common way to identify bacteria is by the technique of Gram staining. The steps of Gram staining include:

  1. Stain the bacteria with a purple dye
  2. Add potassium iodide to the stained bacteria
  3. Rinse the bacteria with alcohol

Bacteria that retain the purple color after being rinsed with alcohol are classified as Gram positive, and bacteria that turn pink with the alcohol are classified as Gram negative. The difference between Gram negative and Gram positive has to do with the cell wall of the bacteria. Gram positive bacteria have a thicker outer cell wall that retains the purple stain, while Gram negative bacteria have a thinner, more porous outer cell wall that cannot retain the purple stain once it is rinsed with alcohol.

During a Gram stain, bacteria either stay purple or turn a pinkish color.
gram stain

Additionally, once the bacteria are stained with a dye, the shape, size, surface texture, and other physical characteristics can be evaluated to help identify the bacteria. Shapes of bacteria include:

  • Round shaped (Cocci)
  • Rod shaped (Bacilli)
  • Spiral shaped (Spirilla)

This picture shows the three main shapes of bacteria: baccili, cocci, and spirilla.
bacteria shape

Each type of bacteria has its own specific physical characteristics. Therefore, studying the size, shape, and surface texture of bacteria after they have been stained is very useful in determining the identify of a given bacteria.

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