A model for forward scattering from bacterial colonies is presented. The colonies of interest consist of approximately individual bacteria densely packed in a configuration several millimeters in diameter and approximately in thickness. The model is based on scalar diffraction theory and accounts for amplitude and phase modulation created by three macroscopic properties of the colonies: phase modulation due to the surface topography, phase modulation due to the radial structure observed from some strains and species, and diffraction from the outline of the colony. Phase contrast and confocal microscopy were performed to provide quantitative information on the shape and internal structure of the colonies. The computed results showed excellent agreement with the experimental scattering data for three different Listeria species: Listeria innocua, Listeria ivanovii, and Listeria monocytogenes. The results provide a physical explanation for the unique and distinctive scattering signatures produced by colonies of closely related Listeria species and support the efficacy of forward scattering for rapid detection and classification of pathogens without tagging.
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