The Effects of Oxygen on Bacterial Growth


Oxygen is a natural element essential to all human life on Earth, as well as the lives of other air-breathing mammals. But there are some living things on Earth, including some organisms, that consider oxygen to be the enemy. While some forms of bacteria need some oxygen to grow, others cannot grow if oxygen is present.

What are Bacteria?

  • Bacteria are tiny organisms made up of a single cell and viewable only under a microscope. Enchanted Learning explains that there are several different types of bacteria: bacilli, which are rod-shaped; cocci, which are round; and the spiral-shaped spirilli. There are also different categories of bacteria. Bacteria grow rapidly and are found in colonies, which can exist just about everywhere on Earth.


  • Aerobic bacteria, also referred to as “aerobes,” prefer to grow in environments that contain at least 5 percent oxygen. They thrive in decaying matter and soil and excrete plant nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium and nitrogen. The University of Illinois Extension reports that if oxygen levels dip below 5 percent, all aerobe colonies die.

No Oxygen—Please

  • The University of South Carolina Biomedical Sciences explains that unlike aerobes, strict anaerobes prefer not to live in oxygenated environments. In fact, strict anaerobes must be grown in controlled environments where there is absolutely no chance that oxygen will penetrate the colony.

The In-Betweens

  • The in-betweens are a group of bacteria referred to as “facultative aerobes,” which do not seem to mind either way if oxygen is present in the environment. Human cells and yeast cells are examples of facultative aerobes. According to Economic, facultative aerobes can utilize the presence of oxygen to their advantage when it comes to growth, but if there is no oxygen around they also can find other means of survival.

The Aerotolerants

  • According to Ohio State University-Mansfield, aerotolerant anaerobes are another group of bacteria unaffected by oxygen. Although aerotolerant anaerobes are not able to utilize oxygen for growth, they also are not intimidated by it.


  • Photo Credit Image by, courtesy of Umberto Salvagnin
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