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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Comparative analysis of Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli microcalorimetric growth

Dragos C Zaharia1, Alexandru A Muntean12, Mihnea G Popa1, Alexandru T Steriade1, Octavian Balint1, Roxana Micut1, Corneliu Iftene1, Ioana Tofolean1, Vlad T Popa2*, Cristian Baicus1, Miron A Bogdan1 and Mircea I Popa1

Author Affiliations

1 University of Medicine and Pharmacy, “Carol Davila”, Eroii Sanitari Bulevard 8, Bucharest, Romania

2 Romanian Academy, Institute of Physical Chemistry, “Ilie Murgulescu”, Splaiul Independentei 202, 060021, Bucharest, Romania

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BMC Microbiology 2013, 13:171  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-13-171

Published: 24 July 2013



Microcalorimetric bacterial growth studies have illustrated that thermograms differ significantly with both culture media and strain. The present contribution examines the possibility of discriminating between certain bacterial strains by microcalorimetry and the qualitative and quantitative contribution of the sample volume to the observed thermograms. Growth patterns of samples of Staphylococcus aureus (ATCC 25923) and Escherichia coli (ATCC 25922) were analyzed. Certain features of the thermograms that may serve to distinguish between these bacterial strains were identified.


The thermograms of the two bacterial strains with sample volumes ranging from 0.3 to 0.7 ml and same initial bacterial concentration were analyzed. Both strains exhibit a roughly 2-peak shape that differs by peak amplitude and position along the time scale. Seven parameters corresponding to the thermogram key points related to time and heat flow values were proposed and statistically analyzed. The most relevant parameters appear to be the time to reach a heat flow of 0.05 mW (1.67 ± 0.46 h in E. coli vs. 2.99 ± 0.53 h in S. aureus, p < 0.0001), the time to reach the first peak (3.84 ± 0.5 h vs. 5.17 ± 0.49 h, p < 0.0001) and the first peak value (0.19 ± 0.02 mW vs. 0.086 ± 0.012 mW, p < 0.0001). The statistical analysis on 4 parameters of volume-normalized heat flow thermograms showed that the time to reach a volume-normalized heat flow of 0.1 mW/ml (1.75 ± 0.37 h in E. coli vs. 2.87 ± 0.65 h in S. aureus, p < 0.005), the time to reach the first volume-normalized peak (3.78 ± 0.47 h vs. 5.12 ± 0.52 h, p < 0.0001) and the first volume-normalized peak value (0.35 ± 0.05 mW/ml vs. 0.181 ± 0.040 mW/ml, p < 0.0001) seem to be the most relevant. Peakfit® decomposition and analysis of the observed thermograms complements the statistical analysis via quantitative arguments, indicating that: (1) the first peak pertains to a faster, “dissolved oxygen” bacterial growth (where the dissolved oxygen in the initial suspension acts as a limiting factor); (2) the second peak indicates a slower “diffused oxygen” growth that involves transport of oxygen contained in the unfilled part of the microcalorimetric cell; (3) a strictly fermentative growth component may slightly contribute to the observed complex thermal signal.


The investigated strains of Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli display, under similar experimental conditions, distinct thermal growth patterns. The two strains can be easily differentiated using a selection of the proposed parameters. The presented Peakfit analysis of the complex thermal signal provides the necessary means for establishing the optimal growth conditions of various bacterial strains. These conditions are needed for the standardization of the isothermal microcalorimetry method in view of its further use in qualitative and quantitative estimation of bacterial growth.