Hemolysis (microbiology)

Hemolysis (microbiology)

Hemolysis is the breakdown of red blood cells. The ability of bacterial colonies to induce hemolysis when grown on blood agar is used to classify certain microorganisms. This is a particularly useful in classifying streptococcal species. A substance that causes hemolysis is a "hemolysin".

Types of hemolysis

* When Alpha hemolysis (α-hemolysis) is present the agar under the colonies is dark and greenish. "Streptococcus pneumoniae" and a group of oral streptococci ("Streptococcus" viridans or viridans streptococci) display alpha hemolysis. This is sometimes called "green hemolysis" because of the color change in the agar. Other synonymous terms are "incomplete hemolysis" and "partial hemolysis". Alpha hemolysis is generally caused by peroxides produced by the bacterium.

* Beta hemolysis (β-hemolysis), sometimes called "complete hemolysis", is a complete lysis of red cells in the media around and under the colonies: the area appears lightened and transparent. "Streptococcus pyogenes", or Group A beta-hemolytic Strep (GAS), displays beta hemolysis.
**Some weakly beta-hemolytic species cause intense beta hemolysis when grown together with a strain of "Staphylococcus". This is called the "CAMP test"1. "Streptococcus agalactiae" displays this property. "Clostridium perfringens" can be identified presumptively with this test.

* If an organism does "not" induce hemolysis, it is said to display gamma hemolysis (γ-hemolysis): the agar under and around the colony is unchanged (this is also called "non-hemolytic"). "Enterococcus faecalis" (formerly called Group D Strep) displays gamma hemolysis.


1The CAMP test is so called from the initials of those who initially described it, R. Christie, N. E. Atkins, and E. Munch-Peterson.



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