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Bottled Nitrifiers Work
by Dr. Timothy A. Hovanec
DrTim's Aquatics

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You read or hear from 'experts' that nitrifying bacteria mixtures don't work, so don't waste your money. That statement may have been true 10 years ago but is not today. I will explain why.

But first let me acknowledge that I do manufacture and sell a mixture of nitrifying bacteria. However, unlike every other company selling these products, I have been conducting research on nitrifying bacteria for nearly 20 years, did my Ph.D. on nitrifying bacteria in aquaria and have published my work in peer-reviewed scientific literature. No other company can make those same claims. So I ask you: who's bacteria would you rather buy? A brand developed by a scientist (who is also life-long fish hobbyist) who has been studying, published and developing nitrifying bacteria for aquaria for nearly 2 decades or one of the brands that has a big marketing department behind them?

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Let's me explain why some mixtures work and why you still hear that "they don't".

The right bacteria are different - for years there were only a couple of brands of nitrifying bacteria mixtures on the market. They contained the traditional species mixture of nitrifying bacteria and they did not perform very well. This soured many long time hobbyists and store owners on nitrifying bacteria mixtures and it is hard to change someone's opinion. My published research showed that the bacteria responsible for nitrification in aquaria were new species that had never been identified or cultured (subsequent research by other university researchers confirmed and extended my findings). My discoveries lead to the development of BioSpira® (trademarks are owned by their respective companies) and later to DrTim's Aquatics® One and Only Live Nitrifying bacteria. Many companies now claim their mixtures now contain these bacteria but they offer no proof and for years some even denied my research was valid so one needs to be careful trusting their claims.

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Nitrifying bacteria can live in a bottle: for awhile - many think that nitrifying bacteria cannot live in a bottle and will say the reason is because nitrifying bacteria don't form spores like other bacteria. This is a half-truth. Nitrifying bacteria don't form spores but that doesn't mean they can't last in a bottle (think about it - if nitrifying bacteria could not survive poor conditions how would they have survived for millions of years?) They can live in a bottle under optimal conditions for about one year. The nitrifying bacteria don't die in the bottle, their activity level drops and eventually it becomes so minimal that there is little measurable positive effect when they are poured into the aquarium water.

No special preservation chemical or substance has been demonstrated to extend the one year time period. Refrigerating the bacteria is the only method that has been shown to measurably extend their shelf life.

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The solution for the hobbyist is to make sure the bacteria you buy has an easy to understand date label on the bottle. At DrTim's Aquatics, we label each bottle with an easy to read "best by" date.

Nitrifying bacteria are sensitive to environment conditions - even when the bacteria in the bottle are the correct species, there are certain environment conditions that can harm and even kill the bacteria while they are in the bottle leading to their inability to accelerate the establishment of nitrification. The first condition is being exposed to temperatures outside the range of survival. If the liquid in the bottle freezes, the nitrifying bacteria will die. It don't matter the brand - freezing kills the nitrifying bacteria. High temperatures also can kill or damage nitrifying bacteria. If the bottle is exposed to 110°F for a day or so the bacteria can be killed. Prolonged exposure to temperatures over 95°F drastically reduces the shelf life of nitrifying bacteria.

Unfortunately, the normal way aquarium products are distributed is awful for nitrifying bacteria. The process is that a pallet of product is shipping by common carrier to the distributor's (or chain store's) warehouse. The product is not shipped in any special containers to protect against heat or cold and the truck is not temperature controlled. Once at the warehouse the pallet is checked in and stored in warehouse without any temperature control. The product can be in a warehouse in the middle of Texas or Arizona in the summer time or Chicago or update New York in the wintertime -neither are great conditions for nitrifying bacteria.

When an order is received, the bacteria are packed just like filters or pumps - without any temperature protection. In fact, some distributors pack their trucks on Friday and leave them outside all weekend, so that they are ready to leave early Monday morning. Think about the temperature in the trailer of a truck left this way in the Midwest in the wintertime - it does not matter what's in the bottle, chances are high the nitrifying bacteria are not going to survive.

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