Bacteriophages pp 161-174 | Cite as

Bacteriophage Plaques: Theory and Analysis

  • Stephen T. Abedon
  • John Yin
Part of the Methods in Molecular Biology™ book series (MIMB, volume 501)


Laboratory characterization of bacteriophage growth traditionally is done either in broth cultures or in semisolid agar media. These two environments may be distinguished in terms of their spatial structure, i.e., the degree to which they limit diffusion, motility, and environmental mixing. Well-mixed broth, for example, represents the microbiological ideal of a non-spatially structured environment. Agar, by contrast, imposes significant limitations on phage and bacterial movement and therefore gives rise to spatial structure.

The study of phage growth within spatially structured environments, such as that seen during phage plaque formation, is important for three reasons. First, a large fraction of environmental bacteria live within spatially structured environments such as within biofilms, within soil, or when growing in or on the tissues of plants and animals. Second, phage growth as plaques is a central technique to phage studies, yet appears to be under appreciated by phage workers in terms of its complexity. Third, selective pressures acting on phage during plaque growth differ from those seen during broth growth.

In this chapter we will discuss just what a plaque is, how one forms, and what can affect plaque size. We will describe methods, both experimental and theoretical, that have been employed to study plaque growth. As caveats we will discuss why plaque formation failure is not necessarily equivalent to virion inviability (Note 1). We also will consider problems with inferring phage broth growth fitness as a function of plaque characteristics (Note 2).

Key Words

Phage plaques plaque formation plaque enlargement mathematical modeling phage virulence 


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Copyright information

© Humana Press, a part of Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen T. Abedon
    • 1
  • John Yin
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of MicrobiologyThe Ohio State UniversityMansfieldUSA
  2. 2.Department of Chemical and Biological EngineeringUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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