Microbial Jargons and Their Meaning

When the laboratory instructor said “take the test organism and stab into the butt”, most of the students were stunned! It was that practical of Microbiology, which taught many students the importance of jargon.

In our medical school, we use an integrated approach in teaching-learning. In a single problem-based question, students may be answering questions related to ‘introduction to clinical science’, ‘community health’, ‘anatomy’, ‘physiology’, ‘microbiology’, and other basic science subjects. A few years back, I was checking the answer sheet of first-year students of our undergraduate medical school (like pre-med students in western countries), reading that answer, I couldn’t hold my laughter. Later, I realized that all my colleagues were staring at me in shock!

The question and the answer was as follows:

Qs “What are four types of media used in Microbiology?”

Answer was: Papers, TV, Billboard, and Internet

The above examples clearly illustrate that scientific terminology used in microbiology or microbial jargon may invite miscommunication. Jargon refers to technical vocabulary that is specific to a particular profession or field. Many times, the technical term might be completely unfamiliar to a non-practitioner outside of the field or may have a different meaning depending on its context. When we know which word falls outside of a lay audience’s vocabulary, we may use an appropriate word or simple word to make our communication with them clear, concise, and understandable.

Here, I have listed the “Microbial Jargon Worksheet” published by American Society for Microbiology. I hope this will help.


WordPublic MeaningMicrobial Meaning
ColonyA group of individuals or things with common characteristics or interests situated in close associationMillions of individual microbes growing together as spherical dots on agar plates and visible by the naked eye.
IsolateAn individual socially withdrawn or removed from societyAn individual, population, strain, or culture obtained by or resulting from selection or separation
LadderA structure for climbing up or down that consists essentially of two long sidepieces joined at intervals by crosspieces on which one may step.Tool used to mark the molecular weight of unknown samples in nucleic acid electrophoresis
SequenceA continuous or connected seriesThe order of nucleotides within a nucleic acid


WordPublic MeaningMicrobial Meaning
BathA washing or soaking (as in water or steam)of all or part of the bodyContainer filled with liquid (usually water) that is heated or cooled to a controlled temperature, providing a gentle method of maintaining sample temperature
CultureAcquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of scienceThe act of growing microbes in the lab for research
Fish/FISHAn aquatic animalFluorescent (or fluorescence) in situ hybridization
GramA metric unit of mass equal to 1/1000 kilogramFrequently-used stain that distinguishes different types of bacteria based on their cell wall properties
HoodA flexible covering for the head and neck, or a protective covering for the head and faceStructure that provides an aseptic work area while allowing the containment of infectious splashes or aerosols generated by many microbiological procedures
LoopA curving or doubling of a line so as to form a closed or partly open curve within itself through which another line can be passed or into which a hook may be hookedA tool, usually made of platinum or nichrome wire, in which the tip forms a small loop that is used to smear, streak, or take an inoculum from, a culture of microorganisms
MediaThose who work in fields such as newspapers, radio, or television and report on newsWater and nutrients that support microbial growth
PDAPublic Display of AffectionPeptone-dextrose agar or photodiode array
PlateA shallow, usually circular vessel from which food is eaten or servedA circular flat dish with a lid that is used for growing bacteria on a bed of nutrient jelly
StreakTo run naked through a public placeMethod used to isolate pure microbial cultures by dragging an innoculated instrument along the surface of an agar dish
Tip(s)A piece of advice or expert or authoritative informationDevice that attaches to a pipettor, used to transfer liquid between vessels using suction and pressure
WellA hole made in the earth to reach a natural deposit (as of water, oil, or gas)Indentation arranged in a regular matrix pattern on a plastic plate, used to grow and/ or analyze samples in parallel


WordPublic MeaningMicrobial Meaning
Be serious/B. cereusA way to say “stop joking” or tell someone to stop acting weirdToxin-producing gram-positive bacteria that causes intestinal illness
Bugs*Any members of the order Hemiptera, OR any of various small arthropods (such as a beetle or spider) resembling these insectsA colloquial term for microbes
MoldThe frame on or around which an object is constructedFungi which grow as semi-microscopic organisms, and whose mycelium tends to form a loose meshwork rather than a dense tissue
Staff/staphIndividuals chiefly responsible for the internal operations of an institution or businessShort for the bacterial genus “Staphylococcus” which is commonly found on human skin
Staph (Microbial Jargon)


WordPublic MeaningMicrobial Meaning
CloneOne that appears to be a copy of an original formProduce many copies of a gene by repeated cycles of replication
ConjugationSchematic arrangement of the inflectional forms of a verb, typically based on tense and personA form of genetic exchange between bacteria without multiplying or reproducing
ExpressionFacial aspect or vocal intonation as indicative of feelingProduction of an observable phenotype by a gene, usually by directing synthesis of a protein


WordPublic MeaningMicrobial Meaning
AerobicA system of physical conditioning involving exercises strenuously performed so as to cause marked temporary increase in respiration and heart rateRequiring oxygen for survival
CellA single room (as in a convent or prison) usually for one personThe smallest unit that can live on its own and that makes up all living organisms and the tissues of the body
EnvelopeA flat, usually paper container (as for a letter)External viral membrane derived from infected host cell
LawnGround that is covered with grass and is kept mowedA uniform and uninterrupted layer of bacterial growth, in which individual colonies cannot be observed
ResistantExerting force in oppositionHaving developed the ability to employ defense strategies to resist the effects of antibiotics and antimicrobials

References and further readings

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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