Common Fungal Culture Media: Their Uses

Two general types of culture media are essential to ensure the primary recovery of all clinically significant fungi from clinical specimens. One medium should be non-selective (such as brain heart infusion agar; i.e., one that will permit the growth of virtually all clinically relevant fungi) and other media should be selective, specially tailored to isolate specific pathogenic fungi of interest.

Common fungal culture media

For optimal recovery of the fungal pathogen, a battery of media should be used, and the followings are recommended:

  1. Media with or without cycloheximide (cycloheximide is added to inhibit the growth of rapidly growing contaminating molds.)
  2. Media with or without an antibacterial agent (chloramphenicol, gentamicin, and ciprofloxacin are commonly used antibacterial for this purpose).

Antibacterial agents are used to killing the contaminating bacterial species. If the sample is taken from a sterile site, it is not necessary to use media containing antibacterial agents.

Common Fungal Culture Media

Fungal Culture MediaEssential ingredientsIntended use
Birdseed agarGuizotia abyssinica seeds, glucose, creatinine, chloramphenicol, monopotassium phosphate, agarSelective and differential isolation of Cryptococcus neoformans from clinical specimens.
Brain-heart infusion agarBrain heart infusion, glucose, L-cysteine hydrochloride, agarGrowth of fastidious pathogenic fungi such as Histoplasma capsulatum and Blastomyces dermatitidis.
CHROMagar Candida mediumPeptone, glucose, chloramphenicol, ‘Chromogenic ix’, agarSelective and differential chromogenic medium for the isolation and identification of various Candida species
Cornmeal agar/ Cornmeal tween agarCornmeal, Tween 80, agarIdentification of C. albicans by microscopic morphology or chlamydospore production.
Czapek-Dox agarNaNO3, K2HO4, KCl, MgSO4, FeSO4, glucose, agarIdentification of Aspergillus and Penicillium species. It can also be used for chlamydospore production by Candida albicans.
Dermatophyte test medium (DTM)Soy peptone, dextrose, cycloheximide, chloramphenicol, gentamicin sulfate, phenol red, agarPrimary and differential fungal cultures medium to isolate and identify dermatophytes.
Inhibitory mold agar (IMA)Tryptone, beef extract, yeast extract, starch, dextrin, chloramphenicol, gentamicin, and saline bufferPrimary recovery of pathogenic fungi exclusive of dermatophytes.
Mycosel/mycobiotic agarPapaic digest of soybean meal, dextrose, cycloheximide, chloramphenicol, agarHighly selective medium; recommended for the isolation of pathogenic fungi from materials containing a large amount of fungal and bacterial flora.
Potato dextrose agar (PDA)Potato extract, potato infusion, dextrose, agarIdeal medium for slide culture preparation. It promotes sporulation of dermatophytes. Demonstration of pigment production by T. rubrum.
Potato flake agarPotato flakes, dextrose, agarPrimary recovery of saprophytic and pathogenic fungi.
Rice starch agarCream of rice, Tween 80, agarProduction of chlamydospore in Candida albicans
Sabouraud dextrose agar (SDA)Pancreatic digest of casein, glucose, agarGrowth and maintenance of clinically important fungal pathogens.

Brain-heart infusion (BHI) agar

It is a non-selective fungal culture medium that permits the growth of virtually all clinically relevant fungi. It is used for the primary recovery of saprophytic and dimorphic fungi.

Czapek dox agar

Czapek dox agar is a semisynthetic medium containing sodium nitrate as the sole source of nitrogen. It is used for the subculture of Aspergillus species for their differential diagnosis.

Inhibitory mold agar (IMA)

Inhibitory mold agar (IMA) is an enriched medium containing chloramphenicol (with some formulations containing gentamicin).  It supports the growth of a wide range of fungi and may inhibit bacterial growth due to its antibiotic content. It is used for the primary recovery of dimorphic pathogenic fungi. Saprophytic fungi and dermatophytes will not be recovered.

Mycosel/Mycobiotic agar

  • It is generally Sabouraud’s dextrose agar with cycloheximide and chloramphenicol added.
  • It is used for the primary recovery of dermatophytes.

Niger Seed Agar

It is used for the identification of Cryptococcus neoformans.

Potato Dextrose Agar (PDA)

Potato Dextrose Agar (PDA) is a common fungal growth media made from an infusion of potato and dextrose. It can be supplemented with acid or antibiotics to inhibit bacterial growth. It is recommended for plate count methods for microbial testings of foods, dairy products, and cosmetics.

Sabouraud’s Heart Infusion (SABHI) agar

Primary recovery of saprophytic and dimorphic fungi, particularly fastidious strains.

Penicillium notatum on Sabouraud agar Image source: ASM
Penicillium notatum on Sabouraud agar
Image source: ASM

Sabouraud’s dextrose agar (SDA)

  • Sabouraud’s agar is sufficient for the recovery of dermatophytes from cutaneous samples and yeasts from genital cultures.
  • Not recommended as a primary isolation medium because it is insufficiently rich to recover certain fastidious pathogenic species, particularly most of the dimorphic fungi.
  •  Sabouraud’s dextrose agar (2%) is most useful as a medium for the subculture of fungi recovered on enriched medium to enhance typical sporulation and provide the more characteristic colony morphology.

Potato flake agar

Primary recovery of saprophytic and dimorphic fungi, particularly fastidious and slow-growing strains.

Further reading and sources

  1. Koneman’s color atlas and textbook of diagnostic microbiology and
  2. Bailey and Scott’s Diagnostic Microbiology

Acharya Tankeshwar

Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. I am Tankeshwar Acharya. Blogging is my passion. As an asst. professor, I am teaching microbiology and immunology to medical and nursing students at PAHS, Nepal. I have been working as a microbiologist at Patan hospital for more than 10 years.

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