Difference Between Serotype, Genotype, Serovar, Strain & Biotype

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

If you're confused as to the meaning of, or differences between, terms like serotype, genotype, serovar, strain or biotype, then you're in luck! This lesson clearly, simply, and succinctly goes over these terms.

Confusing Biological Terms

Biology is filled with confusing terms. So much so, that it pretty much has its own language and even dictionaries of the language! Some of the terms that may be confused or poorly understood include serotype, genotype, serovar, strain, and biotype. This lesson seeks to define these terms for you and clear up any confusion you may have with respect to them.

Serotype vs. Serovar vs. Genotype

To simplify things, let's start off with a familiar example. All people are, in some sense, the same. Regardless of what we look like or what we wear, we are members of the same species. But there are differences nonetheless that can be used to distinguish people from one another or group them into one category or another. For example, there are people who are blondes, people who wear watches, and people who never wear shorts. We can group people in all sorts of ways!

With respect to closely related microorganisms (namely of the same species), we can group them based on their antigens, commonly their surface antigens. Antigens are substances that can elicit an immune system response, such as the production of proteins called antibodies. Antibodies directed against antigens are found in a portion of our blood known as serum ('sero-').

Thus, a serotype is a serologically and antigenically distinct variety of microorganism, like a subgroup of a species of bacteria. In other words, they share similar antigens (antigenically), and the antibodies that are directed against those antigens are the same (serologically). Serovar is a synonym for serotype.

Don't get either term confused with genotype. Genotype refers to an organism's genetic makeup or constitution. This is not the same thing as phenotype! The latter refers to the expressed features of an organism. A genotype is the entire collection of an organism's genetic information. The genotype includes all the genetic information, regardless of whether it's being used/expressed or not.

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