A Petri dish (alternatively known as a Petri plate or cell-culture dish) is a shallow transparent lidded dish that biologists use to culture cells, such as bacteria, fungi or small mosses. It is the most common type of culture plate. The Petri dish is one of the most common items in biology laboratories and has entered popular culture. The term is often written in lower case, especially in non-technical literature.
Features and variants
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Petri dishes are often covered with a shallow transparent lid, resembling a slighly wider version of the dish itself. The lids of glass dishes are usually loose-fitting. Plastic dishes may have close-fitting covers that retard drying of the contents. Alternatively, some glass or plastic versions may have small holes around the rim, or ribs on the underside of the cover, to allow for ventilation of the air space over the culture and avoid water condensation that may be a problem that needs some attention.
Some Petri dishes, especially plastic ones, usually feature rings and/or slots on their lids and bases so that they are less prone to sliding off one another when stacked.
A multiwell plate is a single transparent container with an array of flat-bottomed cavities, each being essentially a small Petri dish. It makes it possible to inoculate and grow dozens or hundreds of independent cultures of dozens of samples at the same time. Besides being much cheaper and convenient than separate dishes, the multiwell plate is also more amenable to automated handling and inspection.
The culture medium is often an agar plate, a layer a few mm thick of agar or agarose gel containing whatever nutrients the organism requires (such as blood, salts, carbohydrates, amino acids) and other desired ingredients (such as dyes, indicators, and medicinal drugs). The agar and other ingredients are dissolved in warm water and poured into the dish and left to cool down. Once the medium solidifies, a sample of the organism is inoculated ("plated").
The dishes are then left undisturbed for hours or days while the organism grows, possibly in an incubator. They are usually covered, or placed upside-down, to lessen the risk of contamination from airborne spores.
While Petri dishes are widespread in microbiological research, smaller dishes tend to be used for large-scale studies in which growing cells in Petri dishes can be relatively expensive and labor-intensive.
Contamination detection and mapping
For this application, the Petri dishes may be filled so that the culture medium protrudes slightly above the edges of the dish to make it easier to take samples on hard objects. Shallow Petri dishes prepared in this way are called Replicate Organism Detection And Counting (RODAC) plates and are available commercially.
Petri dishes are also used for cell cultivation of isolated cells from eukaryotic organisms, such as in immunodiffusion studies, on solid agar or in a liquid medium. In the latter, the cells often grow as a layer attached to the bottom surface of the dish, below the culture medium.
Botany and agriculture
Petri dishes may be used to observe the early stages of plant germination, and to grow plants asexually from isolated cells.
Petri dishes may be convenient enclosures to study the behavior of insects and other small animals.
Sample storage and display
Petri dishes also make convenient temporary storage for samples, especially liquid, granular, or powdered ones, and small objects such as insects or seeds. Their transparency and flat profile allows the contents to be inspected with the naked eye, magnifying glass, or low-power microscope without removing the lid.
In popular culture
The Petri dish is one of a small number of laboratory equipment items whose name entered popular culture. It is often used metaphorically, e. g. for a contained community that is being studied as if they were microorganisms in a biology experiment, or an environment where original ideas and enterprises may flourish.
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- (2019): "Product BP94S01: Corning 100 x 15mm Polystyrene Petri Dishes". Fischer Scientific online catalog. Accessed on 2019-10-25.
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