Edexcel International A Level Biology

Revision Notes

6.14 Core Practical 14: The Effects of Different Antibiotics

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The Effects of Different Antibiotics

  • The effectiveness of different antibiotics in preventing the growth of specific types of bacteria can be studied using aseptic techniques
  • Aseptic techniques involve the use of sterile equipment and require a researcher to work in a sterile environment
    • Sterile refers to the absence of microorganisms
      • Equipment can be sterilised by washing at high temperatures or with antibacterial chemicals
      • Work benches can be wiped with antibacterial chemicals
      • An updraft can be created to ensure sterile air around a work space e.g. by placing a Bunsen burner next to the work bench


  • Bacterial culture
  • Disinfectant
  • Bunsen burner
  • Agar plates
  • Pipettes
  • Plastic spreader or metal inoculating loop
  • Antibiotics and paper discs, or antibiotic infused paper discs
  • Distilled water
  • Forceps


  1. Set up your sterile work area by wiping surfaces with disinfectant and setting up a Bunsen burner
    • The Bunsen burner will create an updraft and prevent microorganisms in the air from landing in the work area
  2. Transfer some of the bacterial culture on to an agar plate using a sterile pipette and spread it out using a sterile spreader or inoculating loop
    • Plastic equipment can be set aside for washing after each use
    • Metal equipment, e.g. inoculating loops, can be sterilised in a Bunsen flame after each use
  3. Soak similar sized paper discs in different types of antibiotics, e.g. Methicillin, Tetracycline and Streptomycin
    • An alternative to using different types of antibiotics could be to use different concentrations of the same antibiotic
    • Note that you can use paper discs that have been pre-treated with antibiotics as an alternative to soaking
  4. Add a negative control to the investigation by soaking a disc in distilled water
    • This provides a point of comparison, demonstrating that any results gained are due to the changes in antibiotic type and not any other factor
  5. Space the discs apart on the agar plate using sterile forceps
    • Place the forceps in a container filled with disinfectant after use, or sterilise in a Bunsen flame
  6. Lightly tape a lid onto the petri dish, invert and incubate at 25 °C for 24 to 48 hours
    • Lightly taping rather than sealing ensures that oxygen is available to the bacteria
    • Inverting the dish, i.e. storing it upside down, prevents condensation from dripping onto the agar, potentially contaminating the dish
    • Incubating at around room temperature prevents the growth of harmful pathogens; research laboratories may use warmer temperatures to achieve faster results
  • Bacteria will grow to form a 'lawn' on top of the agar
  • Any clear patches in the lawn will indicate where bacteria could not grow
    • This is called the clear zone

Interpretation of results

  • The larger the clear zone, the more effective the antibiotic was at inhibiting bacterial growth
  • If no clear zone is present, it means that the bacteria is resistant to that type of antibiotic
  • The sizes of the clear zones can be compared between the different types of antibiotics, as well as the different concentrations of each

Microbial Growth Agar

The presence and size of clear zones around the paper discs indicates the effectiveness of an antibiotic against the type of bacteria used

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Author: Marlene

Marlene graduated from Stellenbosch University, South Africa, in 2002 with a degree in Biodiversity and Ecology. After completing a PGCE (Postgraduate certificate in education) in 2003 she taught high school Biology for over 10 years at various schools across South Africa before returning to Stellenbosch University in 2014 to obtain an Honours degree in Biological Sciences. With over 16 years of teaching experience, of which the past 3 years were spent teaching IGCSE and A level Biology, Marlene is passionate about Biology and making it more approachable to her students.