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Are mold culture tests accurate for screening buildings for mold contamination? This article explains the use and accuracy of mold culture plates, settlement plates, and mold test kits based on cultures to collect mold test samples to screen buildings for harmful indoor mold.
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In this article series discuss the validity of nearly all of the popular mold testing methods currently in use, pointing out the strengths and weakness of each approach to mold sampling in the indoor environment, beginning with air sampling for airborne mold levels indoors.
The use, accuracy, and reliability of mold culture test kits for screening buildings for mold contamination are discussed at MOLD CULTURE TEST KIT VALIDITY and MOLD CULTURE SAMPLING METHOD Also see Mold Culture Plate Test Errors.
Using Mold Cultures for Home Test Kits for Mold
Mold cultures involve the collection of particles by air sampling pump, by gravity settlement, or by lift from a surface using a swab or tape. Some sampling equipment (Anderson™ spore traps) can collect spores directly into a petri dish of culture medium, and are used for "viable spore sampling in air."
The sample by pump, gravity, tape or swab is in any case applied to one or more petrI dishes of culture media for incubation and subsequent examination of the growth product.
Mold Culturing is useful for genera speciation once you have collected a single or dominant sample whose importance (frequency in the building) you already know.
As a "home test kit" for the presence of problematic mold in a building this is an unreliable method, as we describe below at "shortcomings."
Mold Cultures are useful for:
While this is an important tool which has a place in our arsenal, mold culturing is questionable as a means to characterize a mold risk in a building, particularly if it reports the absence of a mold problem. The objections listed below mean that field investigators must collect samples with some care and interpret lab reports with some caution.
While we enjoy growing mold cultures in our lab (it makes for nice, photogenic mold colonies), it is less often useful than direct microscopic examination of a field-collected surface or vacuum sample. Without the added step of mold culturing, from a good surface sample using adhesive tape, a trained microscopist can identify mold genera and mold species as well in many cases.
In many instances, knowing the mold genera is enough to decide on a course of cleanup action without further expense. For example, if we agree that there are no harmless Aspergillus species or Penicillium species that grow indoors, then for purposes of deciding on the need for remediation, only the size of the reservoir is important. P. notatum, used for making the drug Penicillin, has not to our knowledge been found growing on building materials.
Mold Photos in Petri Dishes - Not so Useful for Environmental Sampling and Mold Identification - What Level of Magnification is Needed to Identify Mold?
Why Can't I Find More Photos of Mold in Petri Dishes?
I was disappointed as there were no photos at all of petri dish examples of mold, and this is the way most of us out here will be testing for mold. So, how do I explore what mold I have in my petri dish test? I have quarter sized discs of black/dark green mold growing. I did the airborne mold test.
My dog is always coughing and we are in pretty good health but feel a slight "tug" in my breathing, a slight heaviness in my lungs but not bad. I rent my apartment and my landlord has not been responsive to my concerns.
What can I do financially and health wise to explore my situation? Thanks for any tips!!! - Tony K
Reply: Microscopic Examination of Mold is Necessary for Reliable Identification
By Eye Examination of Culture Plates or Petri Dishes to Identify Mold?
The short answer is that you cannot reliably identify what mold is found in a petri dish simply by looking at some photos or color charts. Some mold genera or species might be ruled "out" or "possible" but expert examination of the sample using high-powered microscopy (or another definitive method) is needed. About what you can do about mold, take a look at MOLD EXPERT, WHEN TO HIRE - for help in deciding if your situation honestly merits hiring an expert. Then see MOLD ACTION GUIDE - WHAT TO DO ABOUT MOLD.
We do have some photos of mold in petri dishes posted just above and online, at other of our online articles about the role and limitations of using mold cultures as "home test kits" at Cultures to "Test for Mold". (You'll see there that what grows in culture is not necessarily the dominant or most significant mold that is present in a building.)
Traditionally, petri dish or culture plate photos were included in early mold taxonomy texts, where color and texture of mold growth at that scale assisted in identification of cultures of a known genera down to species level.
These were photos of mold cultured in laboratories where it is sometimes possible to separate a genera of mold (Aspergillus sp.) into species or groups of species (Aspergillus niger) based on color and other macro-characteristics.
In the closeup of a mold culture petri dish growth shown in our photo at above-right, high-powered microscopic examination was necessary to identify Penicillium sp as one of the several mold genera growing among these green, gray,and dark gray colored mold colonies.
Sometimes we can make a pretty good guess about mold identification by the naked eye, if we see a particular color and texture of mold on a particular surface. For example this photo of mold on an orange is showing what is most likely a species of Penicillium. But in general that's not reliable.
Stereoscopic Microscope Photos of Mold to Identify It?
An "in-between" level of magnification, between using the naked eye to look at mold culture growing in a petri dish and using a high powered microscope is the use of a stereo microscope to magnify mold growth on surfaces such as on culture media in a petri dish.
For example, our stereoscopic microscope photo of Fuligo septica (left) is characteristic of that particular fungus.
Stereoscopic mold photos are often beautiful (like this stereoscopic photo of Stemonitis mold growth structures taken in our lab) and may be helpful in identifying a mold genera. Here, for contrast, is a high power microscope photo of Stemonitis mold spores.
But stereoscopic magnification is inadequate for reliable mold identification.
High Powered Microscopic Identification of Mold Spores
As we operate a forensic lab that processes lots of materials including mold, collected by various means, we see that while petri dish photos are pretty, they are not diagnostic, nor can they be used alone for mold identification at that scale.
We need to examine mold structures and spores at 300x to 1200x to actually identify genera/species reliably. See MOLD by MICROSCOPE for examples.
The Fuligo septic mold spores in our photo provide very different information than what we can get by eye looking at a mold culture plate or petri dish.
At MOLD "TESTING" vs. MOLD "PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION" we discuss the question of what sorts of mold testing are most useful and which are actually diagnostic, giving information about the presence of a mold problem with enough information that you know what to do about it.
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