Transport Media – Definition, Types, Principle, Uses, Examples

Transport media serve as a cornerstone in the realm of microbiology, bridging the gap between specimen collection and laboratory analysis. These meticulously formulated solutions ensure that bacterial specimens are preserved in their original state during transportation, preventing any multiplication. As we delve deeper into this article, we’ll explore the intricacies of transport media, their composition, and their indispensable role in maintaining the integrity of samples for accurate microbiological assessments.

What is Transport Media?

  • Transport media play a pivotal role in the field of microbiology, specifically when it comes to the transportation of specimens. These media are essentially solutions composed of buffers, carbohydrates, peptones, and other essential nutrients. However, it is crucial to note that they exclude growth factors. Therefore, their primary function is to preserve the viability of bacteria during transport without permitting their multiplication.
  • The main objective of utilizing transport media is to ensure that the specimen remains as close to its original state as possible. This is vital because any alteration in the specimen can lead to inaccurate results. Besides, it is essential to minimize bacterial overgrowth from the moment of collection until the time it reaches the laboratory for processing.
  • Then, one might wonder, what exactly does transport media contain? These media are primarily made up of buffers and salts. They are deliberately formulated without nutritional ingredients like carbon, nitrogen, or organic growth factors. This absence is intentional to prevent microbial multiplication. However, in certain cases, the addition of antibiotics and other substances, such as glycerol, becomes necessary, especially when transporting specimens intended for tissue culture.
  • Depending on the type of organisms suspected in a sample, the choice of transport media can vary. However, in a broader sense, transport media can be classified based on their physical state into semi-solid and liquid categories. Furthermore, based on utility, they can be categorized as bacterial or viral transport media.
  • It is also imperative to understand the types of samples that necessitate the use of transport media. Essentially, any sample that could potentially contain pathogens and cannot be processed immediately requires transport media. Examples of such samples include stool, urethral swabs, nasal and throat swabs, and specimens intended for tissue culture.
  • In contrast to transport media, culture media are preparations that contain essential nutrients and minerals crucial for the survival and growth of microorganisms. They can be solid, semi-solid, or liquid and are often referred to as growth media. Their primary function is to provide both the nutritional requirements and an environment for microorganisms to thrive in a laboratory setting.
  • In conclusion, transport media are indispensable in microbiology, ensuring that specimens remain uncontaminated and as close to their original state as possible during transportation. Their meticulous formulation, which emphasizes the exclusion of growth factors, ensures that bacteria remain viable but do not multiply, thus maintaining the integrity of the sample.

Definition of Transport Media

Transport media are specially formulated solutions used in microbiology to preserve the viability of bacteria in specimens during transport, without allowing their multiplication, ensuring the sample remains as close to its original state as possible.


Principle of Transport Media

In the realm of microbiology, transport media play a pivotal role in ensuring the preservation of specimens from the point of collection to laboratory processing. The underlying principle of these media revolves around maintaining the viability of microorganisms without allowing their multiplication. To achieve this, the media are formulated with specific components and characteristics.

Firstly, transport media are equipped with energy sources such as peptones and carbohydrates. These components provide just enough energy to sustain the microorganisms potentially present in a specimen. However, it’s crucial to note that these media do not contain additional carbon, nitrogen, or other organic and inorganic growth factors. Therefore, while the microorganisms remain viable, they are unable to multiply.


Besides, the pH of the transport media is meticulously maintained and well-buffered. This ensures that the organisms within the specimen do not undergo chemical stress, which could compromise their viability. Some transport media go a step further by incorporating inhibitory substances. These substances selectively inhibit the growth and multiplication of certain microorganisms, further ensuring the preservation of the specimen’s original microbiome.

In essence, the primary function of transport media is to act as a protective shield for specimens, preserving the microbiome in its original state until it reaches the laboratory for processing. By excluding growth factors and maintaining optimal pH levels, these media ensure that microorganisms remain viable but do not proliferate, thus upholding the integrity of the sample for accurate analysis.


Types of Transport Media in Microbiology

  1. Classification Based on Physical State:
    • Semi-Solid Transport Media: These media have a consistency that is neither completely solid nor entirely liquid. Their semi-solid nature aids in maintaining the specimen’s integrity while ensuring ease of transportation.
    • Liquid Transport Media: As the name suggests, these media are in a liquid state. They are often used when the specimen needs to be immersed or suspended in the medium for optimal preservation.
  2. Classification Based on Utility:
    • Bacterial Transport Media: Specifically designed for the transportation of bacterial specimens, these media ensure the preservation and viability of bacteria without allowing their multiplication.
    • Viral Transport Media: Tailored for viral specimens, these media maintain the integrity and viability of viruses during transportation. Given the fragile nature of viruses, these media are formulated to provide an optimal environment for their preservation.
    • Parasite Transport Media: These media are used for transporting specimens that may contain parasites. They ensure that the parasites remain viable and are not overshadowed by other microorganisms present in the specimen.

Besides these classifications, it’s noteworthy to mention that specimens intended for fungal culture are typically transported without the use of any specific transport media. This is because fungi have distinct requirements, and often, the natural environment of the specimen suffices for their preservation during transportation.

Functions of Transport Media

  1. Maintenance of Specimen Integrity: The foremost use of transport media is to ensure that the specimen and its microbiome remain in their original state. From the moment a specimen is collected, various external factors can influence its composition. Therefore, transport media act as a protective barrier, preserving the specimen’s inherent characteristics until it reaches the laboratory for detailed analysis.
  2. Viability of Pathogenic Microorganisms: Besides maintaining the overall integrity of the specimen, transport media play a crucial role in sustaining the viability of specific pathogenic microorganisms potentially present within. These microorganisms, often responsible for causing diseases, need to be kept viable for accurate identification and subsequent treatment recommendations.
  3. Inhibition of Commensals and Contaminants: In any given specimen, there exists a mix of microorganisms, some of which are harmless commensals, while others might be contaminants. One of the vital functions of transport media is to prevent these commensals and contaminants from overgrowing and overshadowing the pathogenic microorganisms. This ensures that the pathogenic entities, which are of primary interest in clinical diagnostics, remain discernible and are not masked by the proliferation of non-pathogenic microorganisms.

Applications of Transport Media in Microbiology

  • Transfer of Clinical Specimens: One of the primary applications of transport media is to facilitate the transfer of clinical specimens from collection centers to diagnostic laboratories. This is especially vital when specimens need to be transported from remote or resource-limited areas to well-equipped laboratories for detailed analysis.
  • Preservation During Delays: In scenarios where there might be a delay in processing or culturing clinical specimens, transport media come to the rescue. They ensure that the specimens remain viable and unaltered, allowing for accurate laboratory assessments even after a delay.
  • Sharing Sensitive Microbial Cultures: When microbial cultures, particularly those highly sensitive to environmental changes, need to be shared or transferred between facilities, transport media provide the necessary environment to maintain their integrity.
  • Suppression of Contaminants: Transport media are formulated to suppress the growth of contaminants and other microbial species that are not of interest in clinical samples. This ensures that the primary pathogenic entities in the specimen remain discernible and are not overshadowed by non-pathogenic microorganisms.
  • Maintaining Viability of Specific Organisms: Certain organisms, such as anaerobes, fastidious organisms, and obligate pathogens, have specific requirements. Transport media are designed to maintain the viability of these organisms, ensuring they remain alive and viable for subsequent analysis.
  • Transporting Other Biological Samples: Besides clinical specimens, transport media are also employed in transporting other biological samples, such as food and water samples. These samples, when analyzed, provide insights into food safety, water quality, and other essential parameters.

Limitations of Transport Media in Microbiology

  • Limited Nutrient Content: One of the primary limitations of transport media is their restricted nutrient content. Designed to prevent microbial multiplication, these media provide just enough nutrients to sustain the organisms. Therefore, they do not support the survival of organisms for extended durations. This means that specimens must be processed or transferred to appropriate culture media within a stipulated time frame to ensure accurate results.
  • Potential for Contaminant Survival: While transport media are formulated to inhibit the growth of contaminants, they are not foolproof. Some contaminants, possessing similar metabolic, physical, and chemical requirements as the target organisms, can remain viable. This can pose challenges during subsequent laboratory analyses, as these contaminants might interfere with the isolation and identification of the primary pathogenic entities.
  • Requirement for Optimal Physical Conditions: Transport media are not just about chemical composition. Physical conditions, such as temperature and pressure, play a crucial role in ensuring the viability of specimens. These conditions must be meticulously maintained during transportation, adding another layer of complexity to the process.
  • Necessity for Subsequent Culturing: Transport media are not designed for isolation and diagnosis. They serve as a bridge between specimen collection and laboratory processing. Therefore, specimens preserved in transport media must be subsequently cultured in another appropriate culture medium to facilitate isolation, identification, and diagnosis of the target organisms.

Examples of Common Transport media

  1. Cary and Blair Medium: This is a semi-solid, white-colored medium primarily used for transporting fecal specimens that might contain pathogens like Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, or Campylobacter.
  2. Amies Medium:
    • With Charcoal: The presence of charcoal helps neutralize metabolic by-products of bacterial growth, making it especially useful for isolating fastidious organisms. It’s also suitable for pathogens like Campylobacter.
    • Without Charcoal: This variant is ideal for isolating organisms such as Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma.
  3. Stuart’s Medium: Commonly employed for transporting specimens suspected of containing gonococci. It’s also used for throat, wound, and skin swabs that might have fastidious organisms.
  4. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (VR) Medium: Historically used for transporting feces from suspected cholera patients. However, its use has diminished, with Cary Blair media being the preferred choice for transporting Vibrio cholerae as recommended by WHO.
  5. Alkaline Peptone Water: This medium is employed for transporting Vibrio cholerae, especially when Cary-Blair medium is unavailable and when subculture can be done within six hours of sample collection.
  6. Sach’s Buffered Glycerol Saline: Used for transporting fecal specimens from patients suspected of bacillary dysentery.
  7. Viral Transport Medium (VTM): Specifically designed for transporting samples for viral infection diagnosis. It’s suitable for various samples, including ocular, respiratory, and tissue swabs.
  8. Anaerobic Transport Medium (ATM): This is a semi-solid medium with reducing agents, designed to maintain the viability of anaerobic bacteria. It provides an environment that maintains the viability of most microorganisms without significant multiplication.
  9. Other Transport Media: There are several other transport media, each tailored for specific purposes. For instance, the Chlamydia Transport Medium is used for transporting swabs for the recovery of Chlamydia trachomatis and Herpes Simplex Virus. Similarly, the Mycoplasma Transport Broth is used for transporting swabs or body fluids for the recovery of Mycoplasma, Ureaplasma, and other organisms.
Transport MediaTypeIntended Use
Cary and Blair MediumSemi-solidTransport of fecal specimens with potential pathogens like Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio, or Campylobacter.
Amies Medium (with Charcoal)Semi-solidIsolating fastidious organisms and pathogens like Campylobacter.
Amies Medium (without Charcoal)Semi-solidIsolating Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma.
Stuart’s MediumSemisolidTransporting specimens with suspected gonococci and swabs with fastidious organisms.
Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (VR) MediumNot specifiedHistorically used for transporting feces from suspected cholera patients.
Alkaline Peptone WaterLiquid bacterial transport mediumTransporting Vibrio cholerae, especially when Cary-Blair medium is unavailable.
Sach’s Buffered Glycerol SalineLiquid bacterial transport mediumTransporting fecal specimens from suspected bacillary dysentery patients.
Viral Transport Medium (VTM)Liquid viral transport mediumTransporting samples for viral infection diagnosis, including ocular, respiratory, and tissue swabs.
Anaerobic Transport Medium (ATM)Semi-solid bacterial transport mediumMaintaining the viability of anaerobic bacteria.
Chlamydia Transport MediumLiquid bacterial and viral transport mediumTransporting swabs for recovery of Chlamydia trachomatis and Herpes Simplex Virus.
Mycoplasma Transport BrothLiquid bacterial transport mediumTransporting swabs or body fluids for recovery of Mycoplasma, Ureaplasma, etc.


  1. Johnson FB. Transport of viral specimens. Clin Microbiol Rev. 1990 Apr;3(2):120-31. doi: 10.1128/CMR.3.2.120. PMID: 2187591; PMCID: PMC358147.
  2. Hubbard K, Pellar G, Emanuel P. Suitability of Commercial Transport Media for Biological Pathogens under Nonideal Conditions. Int J Microbiol. 2011;2011:463096. doi: 10.1155/2011/463096. Epub 2011 Oct 30. PMID: 22121364; PMCID: PMC3206327.

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