Effect of pH on Microbial growth

 The self-ionization of water is a continuous process when it is in pure form. In this process, when there is collision of two H₂O molecules they dissociate into H+ and OH-  ions. There is no free hydrogen ions in the water. Because the free hydrogen ions have tendency to attach to the H₂O molecule to form hydronium ion. This means, you will always find  H₃O⁺ or hydronium ions in water, instead of free H+ ions.

What is pH ?

pH stands for potential of hydrogen, or power of hydrogen. pH can be defined as measurement of hydrogen ion concentration in a solution, or mathematically it can be defined as negative logarithm of hydrogen ion concentration.

Formula of pH : -log [H+]

pH is applied only to aqueous solutions. That means where there is water, there is pH. pH was first described by Sorensen in 1909. pH reveals the acidity or basicity of water.
  The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 where the value 7 indicates the neutral pH. pH less than 7 indicate acidic conditions, and greater than seven indicate basic or alkaline. In other word pH is about calculating the free hydronium ions and free hydroxyl ions in a given solution.

A solution with more H+ ions is acidic and gives a pH value less than 7 Similarly, a solution with more OH- ions, is basic and gives a value greater than seven.

Importance of pH

Certain reactions in our body require certain value of pH. Anything higher or lower value may cause damage. For example, if too much of hydrochloric acid is produced in the stomach, the patient will be advised to take antacids like magnesium hydroxide in order to neutralize the excess pH.
  In the same way plants cannot grow if there is continuous rising and falling of pH of soil. Animals in the river cannot survive when acid rains fall on the river.
  Similarly, pH plays an important role on microbial growth.

There were cases where microbes did not show growth in the absence of right pH conditions, even they were supplied with all the required nutrients.
  The pH value where a microbe can grow its best, is called the optimum pH.
Most bacteria grow best at a pH value near to 7, which means, most bacteria are neutrophils.
Some bacteria can grow at a pH range between 3 and 4. These are called acedophiles.
Alkaliphiles are the bacteria that can tolerate pH between 8 and 11.

Impact of pH on Microbial growth

The bacterial cell consists of several protein molecules, lipids, and nucleic acids. And the cell hosts several biochemical reactions. All these activities are regulated when there is optimum pH.
In lower pH conditions, the increased hydrogen ions break the weak hydrogen bonds of protein side chains and finally change the shape of the protein.
  When a protein is not in its original shape, it cannot perform its routine function, and ultimately the bacteria cannot survive.

There are two methods to measure pH in a microbiology lab. The first one is using pH paper. The pH paper changes its color when it is dipped into a solution. This color change is based on acidity and basicity of the sample solution.
Later, the color of the paper will be compared with the color chart provided along with the paper. These papers are coated with a pigment called Flavin, which is extracted from red cabbage. Flavin has ability to change color when it comes in contact with an acid or base. This method will not provide the exact pH value. However, this will provide a value which is closer to the actual pH value.
The other method to measure pH that gives an accurate value is using a pH meter.


 Erth is a closed system, where the over all quantity of matter remains constant. Microorganisms need electron, energy and nutrients to grow. They are responsible for cyclic transformation of compounds, and therefore they are called biogeochemical agents. They carryout transformation of carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, phosphorus, iron etc. This cycling of elements is called biogeochemical cycling. Both biological and chemical process are involved in biogeochemical cycling.

The oxidation reduction reactions are mainly responsible for biogeochemical cycling of compounds. This changes the chemical and physical characteristics of different compounds. These cyclic turnover of elements are brought about by different types of microorganisms resulting into continuous change in chemical states of matter.

The life of earth depends on cyclic conversion of chemicals from inorganic state to organic (complex state) to the elemental state. The break in the cycle at any point would dramatically affect all life forms. Various processes carrying out these transformation include :

Mineralization : 

It is a process of conversion of complex organic compounds to simple inorganic forms. Many heteroprophic microbes play role in mineralization.
The resultant simple compounds are made available to plants and microbes. Energy is released in the process. The process of mineralization is very important as it increases soil fertility.

Carbon mineralization :

  • Organic carbon is mineralized to inorganic state.
  • Under aerobic condition the main products of carbon mineralization are CO₂ and water.
  • In absence of O₂ organic carbon is incompletey metabolized to produce organic acids, alcohols and gases.

Assimilation :

  • It is the process of conversion of substrate elements to protoplasmic elements. 
  • Microbes take up the simple materials from the environment (soil) and convert them into cellular materials. It is known as assimiliation or biosynthesis.
  • In this process synthesis of energy and cellular material takes place. Through assimilation microbes store the excess of simple inorganic chemicals, and prevent their loss due to erosion.

Immobilization :

It is a process in which the quantity of plant available nutrients are reduced in soil by microorganisms. The nutrient assimilation is an important method of immobilization.
The uptake of various elements like carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur, etc. cause immobilization.

  Intermediary substances accumulate abundant quantities of CH4 and smaller amount of H₂ is evolved. The factors affecting mineralization are level of organic matter, temperature, moisture, pH, depth and aeration.
  All these factors affect the growth and metabolism of microbes and the process of mineralization.

  • In nitrogen mineralization ammonium, nitrite and nitrates are accumulated from organic nitrogenous compounds like proteins, nucleic acids, etc.
  • In phosphorus mineralization organic phosphorus present in nucleic acid, phytin, lecithin, etc. are converted to inorganic phosphorus.
  • Sulfur mineralization involves aerobic breakdown of sulfur containing amino acids : cystine, cysteine, methionine, and vitamins, thiamine, biotin, thioctic acid releasing sulfates. Whereas in absence of oxygen , H₂S and odoriferous mercaptans accumulate in soil.