Starch Hydrolysis Test: Understanding, Procedure, and Applications

The Starch Hydrolysis Test serves as a crucial method for identifying bacteria with the ability to hydrolyze starch, utilizing enzymes such as α-amylase and oligo-1,6-glucosidase. Starch hydrolysis agar serves as a medium in microbiological laboratories for evaluating the enzymatic activity of microorganisms.

Principle of Starch Hydrolysis Test

The principle of the Starch Hydrolysis Test lies in detecting the ability of an organism to produce the enzyme amylase, which hydrolyzes starch into smaller subunits such as maltose and glucose. This test helps in differentiating bacteria based on their ability to break down starch.

Starch hydrolysis test result
Starch hydrolysis test result

Purpose of Starch Agar

Starch agar functions as a differential medium aimed at testing the enzymatic activity of microorganisms, particularly their ability to produce α-amylase and oligo-1,6-glucosidase. This medium assesses the organisms’ capacity to produce exoenzymes, facilitating the breakdown of starch into smaller, absorbable molecules.

Composition and Preparation of Starch Agar

Starch agar comprises beef extract, soluble starch, and agar suspended in distilled water. The medium is sterilized through autoclaving and poured into sterilized petri plates for solidification. Additionally, commercially available premixed dehydrated powder or pre-made agar plates can be utilized, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Starch Agar Recipe and Storage Guidelines

Composition (per liter):

  • Beef extract: 3 g
  • Soluble starch: 10 g
  • Agar: 12 g
  • Distilled water: 1 liter


  1. Suspend beef extract, soluble starch, and agar in 1 liter of distilled water.
  2. Mix thoroughly and heat with frequent agitation until just boiling.
  3. Avoid excessive boiling to prevent starch hydrolysis.
  4. Autoclave at 121°C for 15 minutes at 15 psi.
  5. Ensure the final pH of the medium is 7.5 ± 0.2 at 25°C.
  6. After sterilization, pour the melted medium into sterilized petri plates (20 to 30 ml per plate) and allow it to solidify before use.
  7. The prepared medium appears light amber to slightly opalescent.


  • Prepared starch agar plates become opaque if refrigerated.
  • Prepared medium can be dispensed into screw-cap tubes and stored for up to 2 weeks.
  • After 2 weeks, starch changes may occur, and reddish-purple spots may develop upon addition of iodine.
  • To use stored medium from tubes, melt in a boiling water bath, pour into individual plates, and bring to room temperature before use.
  • Starch agar medium is commercially available as premixed dehydrated powder or premade agar plates from biological supply companies. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for preparation.

Procedure for Starch Hydrolysis Test

1. Inoculation:

  • Utilize a sterile technique to inoculate the test bacteria onto starch agar plates.
  • Use a fresh culture of the test organism, preferably 16- to 18-hour pure culture.
  • Pick a single isolated colony and streak it onto the surface of the agar in a zigzag fashion or spot inoculate as appropriate.

2. Incubation:

Incubate the inoculated plates at 35 ± 2°C for 24 to 48 hours, or longer if necessary (up to 3 to 5 days), allowing for bacterial growth and enzymatic activity.

3. Addition of Iodine Solution:

  • After the appropriate incubation period, flood the surface of the agar with Gram’s iodine solution using a dropper.
  • Ensure complete coverage of the agar surface with the iodine solution, but avoid excess pooling.
  • Allow the iodine solution to react with the starch present in the agar.

4. Visualization and Interpretation:

Observe the plates for the appearance of characteristic color changes.

  • Positive result: Clear zones around bacterial growth, indicating starch hydrolysis.
  • Negative result: Dark blue or black coloration of the medium, indicating intact starch.

Record results immediately to avoid inaccurate interpretations.


  • Document the results by taking photographs of the plates before and after the addition of iodine solution.
  • Clearly label the plates with relevant information, including the bacterial species, date, and any other pertinent details.

Quality Control:

  • Perform quality control checks on each new lot of starch agar prior to use.
  • Ensure proper inspection for freezing, contamination, cracks, and dehydration of the agar plates before storage and utilization.

Storage and Handling:

  • Store the prepared starch agar plates appropriately, avoiding excessive exposure to light and maintaining suitable temperature conditions.
  • Discard any plates showing signs of deterioration, contamination, or expired shelf life.
  • Follow recommended guidelines for the disposal of microbiological waste and decontamination procedures.

Repeat Testing (if necessary):

  • If inconclusive results are obtained or further confirmation is required, plates can be reincubated and retested as needed.
  • Ensure proper documentation and traceability of repeated testing procedures for accurate record-keeping.


  • Record and report the results accurately, including any observations or additional notes relevant to the interpretation of the starch hydrolysis test.
  • Communicate findings promptly and effectively to relevant stakeholders or colleagues for further analysis or decision-making.

Expected Results of Starch Hydrolysis Test

  1. Positive Test:
    • Appearance of Clear Zones: A clear zone surrounding the bacterial growth indicates starch hydrolysis.
    • Characteristics: The zone may initially appear yellow due to the iodine present in the medium and progressively become lighter or clear.
    • Interpretation: Presence of clear zones indicates that the test organism possesses the enzymatic capability to hydrolyze starch.
  2. Negative Test:
    • Dark Blue or Black Coloration: The medium remains dark blue or black, indicating intact starch.
    • Characteristics: No clear zones are observed surrounding the bacterial growth.
    • Interpretation: Lack of clear zones signifies that the test organism does not produce the necessary extracellular enzymes to hydrolyze starch.

Uses and Limitations

Starch hydrolysis testing serves various purposes, including species differentiation within bacterial genera and aiding in the identification of specific microbial characteristics. However, it’s important to acknowledge its limitations, such as the inability to perform subculturing from plates post-iodine addition due to cell death caused by the reagent’s oxidative nature.


Starch hydrolysis agar represents a fundamental tool in microbiology laboratories for assessing bacterial enzymatic activity and differentiating microbial species based on their starch-degrading capabilities. Understanding the principles, procedure, and applications of this test enhances its utility in microbial identification and characterization, contributing to broader scientific research and clinical diagnostics.

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Binod G C

I'm Binod G C (MSc), a PhD candidate in cell and molecular biology who works as a biology educator and enjoys scientific blogging. My proclivity for blogging is intended to make notes and study materials more accessible to students.

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