Research – Low accuracy of the McFarland method for estimation of bacterial populations

Academic Journals

The McFarland method is designed to estimate bacterial concentrations by means of a turbidity scale (absorbance) which consists of a series of tubes previously calibrated, and with an optical density produced by the precipitation of barium sulphate. This absorbance is compared to bacterial populations. The most used absorbance is the one corresponding to 0.5 on that scale, which assumes a population of 1.5×108 cfu/mL (colony forming units per milliliter). In order to verify the accuracy of this scale, 25 different bacterial species were tested, adjusting to 0.5 of the McFarland scale and then an aliquot in plate with agar was cultured in triplicate to account for the population. The results showed very diverse populations, with variations ranging from 30 to 300% of what was expected (0.5×108 to 3×108 cfu/mL). The most important implications of this are in studies of microbial ecology, in clinical microbiology, in studies on sensitivity to antibiotics and in areas of quality control. It is suggested to take special care when it is required to establish, with more accuracy, the population of a crop.

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