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I am reading Murray's Microbiology book and thinking what how you understand the use of semicolons:

[Mycobacteria cell wall is a complex, lipid-rich.] It is responsible for many of the characteristic properties of the bacteria (eg acid-fastness; slow growth, resistance to detergents, common antibacterial antibiotics, and the host immune response; antigenicity).

Are slow growth, resistance to detergents, common antibacterial antibiotics and the host immune response somehow related?

Then, I do not understand why they use the last semicolon, just below the word antigenicity.

How do you read the sentence inside the brackets which has many semicolons?

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This isn't a biology question so will probably get closed. The semicolons are simply there to create a list. It is more usual to use semicolons having introduced a list with a colon: this; this; and this. In the quotation the author could just as easily have used commas. –  Alan Boyd Feb 1 at 22:40
    
Thank you very much for your answers! It is best always to draw those lists and think what the author tries to say. –  Masi Feb 2 at 7:15
    
Rest assured your contention is right, there are groups (relations). Voting to close as a no ball. –  Kris Feb 2 at 7:54

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It's a list inside a list. The outer list is marked with semicolons, and the inner list is marked with commas. And I think there's a mistake.

The structure is like this:

  • acid-fastness;
    • slow growth,
    • resistance to detergents,
    • common antibacterial antibiotics,
    • and the host immune response;
  • antigenicity

But that doesn't make sense. I think this makes more sense:

  • acid-fastness;
  • slow growth;
  • resistance to
    • detergents,
    • common antibacterial antibiotics,
    • and the host immune response;
  • antigenicity

So the comma after slow growth should be a semicolon.

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Don't have the rep to edit it, but you might want to change [space][asterisk][space][asterisk]" slow growth," to [space][space][space][asterisk]" slow growth," to fix the sublist in the first version. –  KRyan Feb 2 at 3:06
    
@KRyan: I agree the layout is ugly, but I did it that way for a reason. The edit you suggested would imply that slow growth, ... , and immune response is nested within the acid-fastness item. –  Pitarou Feb 2 at 6:06

The author wanted to say that slow growth was one characteristic property, and resistance to detergents, antibiotics, and the host immune response another. If he had used the common construction of using commas to separate items, it would have appeared that common antibacterial antibiotics was an important property, or at least it would have been difficult to distinguish what was a list item and what a 'sub-item'. The usual way round this is to use semicolons to separate list items; so the semicolon you ask about is there to separate one property, antigenicity, from the previous one in the list, resistance to three things that attack the bacterium. Unfortunately, he was not consistent in punctuation, and as written that 'previous property' includes slow growth, which makes no sense. I suggest that the comma before resistance should be a semicolon, leaving the parenthesis as a simple list of four examples of characteristic properties.

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