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Clostridium

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An Overview of Clostridia

MVSAT Dec 2023

Clostridium is bacteria that is rod-like in shape and is gram-positive often. They are usually defined as anaerobic, and the endospore producing spectrum of bacteria includes pathogens that are lethal to human life as well as non-pathogenic variants. There are over 200 Clostridium species in the genus.


The bacteria can breed in soil or the intestines of an animal and human. Additionally, it is found in the lower reproductive female tracts. The clostridium classification plays a vital role in preserving the health of our environment, and it is widely used in industries. We shall discuss the aforementioned features and Clostridium morphology in detail in the succeeding sections. 


Clostridia Meaning

Clostridium, Clostridia in the plural, is simply a spectrum of mesophilic bacteria devoted to acid production and following anaerobic respiration. Here, mesophilic indicates that the bacteria require an optimum temperature, i.e., neither high nor low. Anaerobic respiration implies that the bacteria do not require oxygen. Additionally, they are sensitive to oxygen exposure and die when exposed to normal levels of atmospheric oxygen.


The clostridium shape is usually cylindrical or rod-like in vegetative form. The bacteria that do not have a propensity of dissimilatory sulphate reduction. Clostridia bacteria are gram-positive, which implies that they have a single lipid bilayer. They have a dense peptidoglycan layer, which allows positive clostridium gram stain results.


Properties of the Genus

Clostridium Classification Implies the following Properties:

  • Obligate anaerobic: They cannot withstand exposure to oxygen and survive under environments where oxygen is non-existent or negligible.

  • Gram-positive: This implies:

  1. Clostridium bacteria have a Cytoplasmic lipid membrane with a peptidoglycan layer that is thick.

  2. They have teichoic acids and lipids that form lipoteichoic acids.

  3. Spore forming: They create endospores.


Other Properties of the Clostridium Species are:

  • Vulnerability to Purifiers

Solvents like alcohol and detergents alongside other disinfectants hinder the survival of the Clostridia group. The spores cannot grow in a hot environment or a cold environment as well as in the presence of UV radiation. The vegetative bacteria die with immediate oxygen exposure.

  • Clostridium Morphology:  

They are rod-shaped, i.e. cylindrical. The length varies from 3 micrometres to 5 micrometres, while their width is about half a micrometre. They continue their species through sporulation. Their spores have a distinct bottle-like shape. 

  • Natural Habitat: 

In nature, rivers, riverbanks, vegetables, soil, lake, and sand are from their natural habitats. They are also present in the animal body and human body, serving as symbiotic bacteria examples.


Clostridium Treatment

Among the 250 species of the Clostridium genus, several are responsible for causing lethal damages to humans. Some can even cause death. Hence, timely quality treatment is of vital importance. Some modern-day clostridium treatment is:


  • Since clostridia are vulnerable to penicillin G, it is used to treat ailments caused by the genus. 

  • The bacteria is also weak against carbapenems, sulphonamides, and vancomycin.

  • Since the bacteria are mesophilic, exposing them to high heat can be helpful to overcome the infection. Thus, you can prevent the spread by cooking your food adequately since it can be present in foods like garlic.


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The Functionality of the Clostridium Genus

  • Nitrogen Fixation: The endophytic clostridia, one of the classic symbiotic bacteria examples, is conducive for nitrogen fixation, a process by which the nitrogen contents of the soil are broken down into substances that are consumable by the plant. This is crucial for plant growth and eventually sustenance of the environment.

  •  Some Clostridium species are found beneficial for the growth of cucumber and barley crops when they are separated from the pea rhizosphere.

  • The bacteria is found to have antifungal properties. Thus, it hinders the growth of fungi in the earth and supports the bacterial population of the soil.

  • Clostridium toxins are used in research extensively to discover biotechnical applications.

  • The cosmetic industry uses them in several products.

  • Its strains generate organic acid and solvents along with enzymes.


Fun Facts

In the latter half of the 18th century, an illness caused havoc in Germany. It was speculated that specific sausages were the culprit here. A neurologist named Justinus Kerner found rod-like cells to be responsible for the outbreak in 1817. Later, in 1897, Emile van Ermengem wrote about his discovery of a microorganism in contaminated ham in his publications.


The bacteria are now classified as the Clostridium genus. However, it was not until 1924 that it was categorized as one by Ida A. Bengtson. Initially, the biologists viewed it under the category of Bacillus owing to positive clostridium gram stain test results.

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FAQs on Clostridium

1. What are the similarities and differences between Clostridium bacteria and Bacillus?

Bacilli and Clostridia are distinct genera of the kingdom Animalia despite having similarities. Some of the differences include-

  • Respiration process: Bacillus needs aerobic conditions to survive. On the other hand, Clostridium bacteria can thrive only in anaerobic conditions; exposure to standard atmospheric levels of oxygen kills them.

  • While both the bacteria are spore-forming, the species of Clostridium shape the spores in the form of a bottle. On the contrary, Bacillus spores are oblong.

  • One of the clostridium characteristics is it makes no enzyme catalase, while Bacillus destroys toxic oxygen metabolism products via catalase secretion. 

These two have the following similarities:

  • Owing to their property of becoming gram-negative with time, they are also characterized as gram-variable.

  • They both are rod-shaped and belong to the phylum and firmicutes groups.

2. Elucidate the Clostridium classification

More than two hundred species of Clostridium have been discovered till now. Many of them are lethal for humans since they form toxins.


They are a form of bacteria that belong to the class of Clostridia and the genus of Clostridium. The family name of the bacteria is Clostridiaceae, and the order is Clostridiales.

In its entire species, the Clostridium shape remains the same, along with the obligate anaerobic nature. Some of them are non-pathogenic, while the majority remain pathogenic. Some pathogenic bacteria are-


  • Clostridium botulinum causes botulism, a form of paralysis.

  • Clostridium perfringens can cause food poisoning, gas gangrene, and enteritis necroticans.

  • Clostridium difficile causes infection in the intestine and results in diarrhoea.


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