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Summary

Easily visible colonies of bacteria continued to form on plates inoculated with soil and incubated for 24 weeks. Using two different media, 13% and 29% of easily visible colonies appeared after more than 12 weeks. In addition, 10% and 18% of all colonies had diameters of 25–200 µm (mini-colonies), which could not be readily seen with the unaided eye. Members of soil bacterial groups that are only rarely cultured, such as members of the subclass Rubrobacteridae of the phylum Actinobacteria, members of subdivisions 1 and 2 of the phylum Acidobacteria and members of three subphyla of the phylum Chloroflexi, were more abundant among the easily visible colonies and mini-colonies that developed after > 12 weeks of incubation. Our results indicate that there is a hidden culturable diversity of soil bacteria that may require laboratory study at colony sizes and incubation periods outside those commonly anticipated by most microbiologists. Working at these scales increases the likelihood of obtaining cultures from groups of soil bacteria that have generally eluded laboratory study by cultivation methods.