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How to Use the Bergey's Manuals

Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology was first published in 1923 by the Society of American Bacteriologists, which was later to become the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). In the 1980s, after many revised editions, the Manual was first published as Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology, followed by a second edition in the 2000s. In its various incarnations the Manual was and remains the most widely used reference work on bacterial classification. The last two editions have undergone major changes in organization, reflecting recent advances in identifying and classifying bacteria. Below I describe how to use the latest three editions of the Manual.

Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology (1994 and 2000 editions)

The primary purpose of this single 777 page paperback volume is bacterial identification based upon phenotype, including: Gram stain result; shapes sizes, arrangements of cells; relationship to oxygen; motility; spore production; optimum growth temperature; biochemical assays, etc. This edition of the Manual will be of most use in making a preliminary identification of a bacterial isolate. It is not available on line, so each team will require one or two copies for use in lab.

If you borrow a copy from the laboratory or purchase a copy with hopes of selling it later, you will want to refrain from marking in the book such as by marking the tables as you check off lab assays and eliminate candidate families, genera, and/or species. When working with tables you probably should make a photocopy (carefully, to avoid damaging the book binding) and mark on the copy rather than in the book.

Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology (second edition)

The primary purpose of this five volume set to provide detailed information on bacterial classification and detailed characteristics of taxa and species. The volumes are organized according to molecular classification systems including 16s RNA sequences rather than by phenotypic characteristics, making them of little use in systematically identifying isolates. The manual will, however, be very valuable for obtaining detailed information once you have narrowed your search.

  • Volume 2 of the Manual covers the Proteobacteria (most gram negative bacteria) in three parts. The majority of gram negatives will be found in part B. Look in part C if a description of your species is not in volume 2B.
  • Volume 3 covers the Firmicutes (most of the gram positive bacteria).
  • Volume 4 covers a variety of other bacteria including the spirochaetes, a species of which we found in pond water some years ago.
  • Volume 5 includes the Actinobacteria (gram positive bacteria with high G+C content); if you cannot find your Gram + species in the index to Vol. 3 then you might try here.

Considering our sources of bacteria you are unikely to need Volume 1. Volumes 2-5 are availalbe on line to any Rice student by logging in to the Fondren Library web page using your netID and password. To access the online Manual start with the Fondren Library home page (http://library.rice.edu/). Type "bergey's manual" in the OneSearch window and hit the search button. Scroll down to the Bergey's volume that you want and click on the "online access" link, then choose to read online. You are strongly advised to use the Index to search directly for your species rather than to try to browse the volume. To the left are the book's contents. Scroll all the way down to quickly get to the index of scientific names. Note that a page number in boldface type denotes a page on which descriptive information is found. Page numbers not in boldface refer to mention of the taxon and are not likely to include useful information for you. If your genus/species is not listed in the index or there are no page numbers in boldface type, then you are in the wrong volume.

It is critical that you review candidate species as you narrow your search because a detailed description may reveal that your tentative identification of family, genus, or species is unrealistic. For example, if you have narrowed your search to members of the familyEnterobacteriaceae then review the characteristics shared by all genera in this family before moving on. When you think you have identified the species look it up in the index and review descriptions of both the genus and the species itself. Species are reassigned to different genera rather frequently, so it is possible that a species you identify in the Determinative manual will not be in the index to the Systematic manual. In that event a Google search should lead to information on the species and will likely reveal an alternative name.

Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology (first edition)

The primary purpose of this four volume set was to provide detailed information on bacterial classification and detailed characteristics of taxa and species. It can be used for bacterial identification but identification was not its intended purpose. A few copies of volumes 1 and 2 of this edition of the Manual are available for limited use, however more current and equally detailed information is available in the second edition. Many of the listings in this set, which came out in the 1990s, are outdated.


Created by David R. Caprette (caprette@rice.edu), Rice University 11 Jun 2013
Updated 18 May 15
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