In the comfort and safety of a virtual lab, it is possible to take your time and repeat tests if necessary. Time and the cost of repeating tests are not an issue. In the clinical lab, that is not the case. Quick and accurate identification of an unknown pathogen can make the difference in a successful outcome for an ill patient.
So how can we somehow "automate" the process of doing biochemical tests to provide quick and accurate identifications? There are literally hundreds of biochemical tests that could be used for ID, some helpful and others providing no useful information. There are tests that are valuable for Gram positive cocci that are inappropriate for use with Gram negative bacilli. You have seen this first hand if you have completed the two sections on identifying Gram negative rods and Gram positive cocci. In each case, we steered you toward specific tests to get the identification started down the right track. After that, it was a matter of finding additional tests from those provided (in consultation with the ID matrix) to generate the information needed to get your unknown identified.
In our micro lab, we have our students use traditional biochemical tests following this pattern, and then we have them confirm the identity using a commercially-available rapid ID test system. These commercial products bundle together a collection of the most valuable tests and allow all to be done simultaneously with a simple one-step inoculation and incubation process. The tests are generally the same as those that can be done in a micro teaching lab, but their unique packaging as a single strip or panel of multiple tests makes doing all tests needed for ID simple and dummy-proof. Overnight (or sometimes in a matter of hours), the results are available and provide a numerical code that designates the ID of the unknown. Most commonly, results are interpreted by a machine so that the clinical scientist need only inoculate, incubate, place in the automated reader, and then look at the printout of the results to go from pure culture of the unknown to identity in 24 or fewer hours.
For an overview of some popular rapid ID systems and how they work, go to Micro Digital Media Exercise 19 "Rapid ID Systems for Bacterial Identification."
Your instructor will direct you on what documentation to turn in when finished - VUMIEtm 2012 Virtual Lab Report, MDM Exercise 19, or other.
When done, you may be asked to take a quiz over the material.