Experimental infection of the mouse can be used for the determination of virulence of cultures of mammalian tubercle bacilli. The relative virulence of such cultures for the mouse is approximately the same as for the guinea pig.
Cultures of virulent and avirulent variants of mammalian tubercle bacilli grown in the depth of Tween 80-albumin liquid medium, on the surface of solid agar modifications of this medium, and on the surface of a liquid modification of this medium exhibit consistent morphological differences. All virulent cultures tend to form microscopically demonstrable serpentine cords of varying thickness and length consisting of highly acid-fast bacilli oriented in parallel along the long axis of the cord. The formation of cords appears to be an important factor in conditioning the ability of cultures to spread on the surface of liquid and solid media. It can be inhibited by the addition to the medium of the surface-active water-dispersible oleic acid ester, Tween 80. Avirulent variant bacilli grow in a more or less non-oriented fashion. They have never been observed to form cords under any condition of growth and are much less acid-fast than the virulent cultures when grown in Tween-albumin medium.
Two strains of mammalian tubercle bacilli which are intermediate in degree of virulence between the fully virulent and the avirulent variants also exhibit intermediate morphological characteristics.