Counting Bacteria - wouldn't it be nice....

DAnCSF

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So we are all about bio cycling, having enough good bacteria to take care of our ammonia/nito cycle... We all go through lots of work and expense: bio balls, bio rings, bio wheels, bacteria starters via the bottle...etc...and the only way we know it things are working is via test strips/ water test...lots of them.....Wouldn't it be cool if there was some way to get a real and accurate count of the "good" bacteria that we have in our aquariums? Wouldn't that be a game changer/business opportunity, if there was a machine that would measure the bacteria count in your tanks and say...you have X amount of bacteria and it's in the acceptable range given the size and number of your fish.....Just throwing this out there, an over the beer questions.
 

mcordelia

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:D Seachem has the ammonia alert and pH alert disks that is kind of similar? They don't directly tell you how much bacteria you have, but they at least tell you if you don't have enough haha. I have no idea how well the products work by the way.

I think it would be legit if you could have a "fake fish" that you toss into your tank, and they would be calibrated to different "intensities" for different bioloads/tank sizes. Basically, you put it in, give it 24h, and it changes colors to tell you that you are either good to go or if it stays red for example it means that you need to do a gradual cycle or something. I know there are some unidirectional membranes that could maybe let stuff in one way but not out the other way? like, if you could make a "bacteria trap" where the bacteria go into but don't come out of, then you could have ammonia inside the trap and test how quickly it gets neutralized via color change or something. Problem is, bacteria are way bigger than ammonia so keeping the ammonia inside if there are holes big enough for the bacteria to get in there would be a challenge....

Maybe taking a page from the drug industry, you could make a combo molecule and adhere it to a disk or something so it doesn't come off, and then put it in the tank with a mesh to keep the fish from coming in contact with it. But then you run into the issue of needing to get the bacteria to migrate onto the disk, which might be a slooooowwww process....

So yeah, I think your only way of measuring the bacteria (without killing the bacteria or fish in the process) is to measure something related to the bacteria without measuring the bacteria itself... Which I think is the whole Seachem ammonia alert thing in a way, but that only measures ammonia... I think you should be able to put something in your filter for 24h that would indicate if you're good to add more fish or not, but getting it in contact with the bacteria without just doing a "spot test" but actually getting a sense for the ENTIRE BB of the tank would be difficult.... maybe a two-part thing, one is you add some chemical that gets broken down by the BB but isn't toxic to the fish into the water column, and then you add an indicator plate or something to the filter outlet to collect it.... you add the drops of the chemical one day, and the next day you put your testing plate into your filter outlet, and then the plate collects all the leftover chemical that hasn't been processed by the BB and tells you how much active BB you have....

probably way too much $$ to develop without ever seeing any kind of ROI, since anything that doesn't sell fish for the bad fish stores is probably "bad business"
 

Naterjm

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Would be great to be able to count it. For sure.

would give a finite number that one could use to determine how much bacteria is needed for proper biological filtration for a certain amount of life in an aquarium.

unfortunately this bacteria grows on surfaces of the tank, be it gravel, decorations, driftwood, filter media, glass etc.

that being said, it would be nearly impossible to get an accurate count unless you were able to take samples from every surface in the tank and develop some sort of average.

Im sure there are people smarter than me who could conceivably develop the technology, but at what expense? And would it be worth it?

im not sure it would be, and likely not necessary. We can count the nitrogen compounds in the water to determine whether we have enough of the beneficial bacteria as it is.

always enjoy the outside of the box thinking though
 

Utar

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I don't think any means of counting would ever create an accurate count. Microorganisms multiply, live and die very fast so counting it now wouldn't meat anything thirty minutes later.
 

mcordelia

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The average would still be the same though, since if you have more bacteria dying than surviving (or vice versa) that would mean you wouldn't have a stable system and are either headed for a crash or are still cycling
 
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DAnCSF

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Great Replies and thinking all...I guess I was just wishfully think....as always looking for a simple lazy way of doingMaybe we can get someon things...oh wait that's why we have test strips...;-) LOL....May be we can get someone on Kickstarter to make an easy to use and run an N cycle monitor...and it has to be cheap too LOL,,,,thanks for the comments all,
 

Bruce Leyland-Jones

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Oooops...just discovered this interesting thread...

I'm disappointed that I've been unable to find a useful bacteria-testing kit, given the many other advances in test kits over the last decade or so.
I suppose the difficulty arises in us using cultures of mixed bacteria, either grown naturally in the tank during our cycling, or added artificially from a bottle.
Bacteria testing kits do exist, but these seem to be for specific terrestrial bacteria such as Staph. aureus, or E.Coli., etc., relating to general health and these ain't cheap.
Back in microbiology, we'd add measured drops onto agar plates and later we'd literally count the colonies that grew. More sophisticated methods involved shining lasers through suspensions.

Would I be right in assuming that the best test for beneficial tank bacteria is to simply monitor the water parameters for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate?

As anyone here with a microbiology background/skill set played around with inventing such a test kit? Again, I'm seeing the real challenge being the multiple species involved.

I'm sure the various producers of the bottled bacteria use some method of continually assessing their products, for quality control, if nothing else. I wonder how they do it? Whilst some apparently use a specific species, others state that they use a culture of assorted species. The method used by the latter maybe more appropriate for us fishkeepers, given that we'll always have a variety in our tanks.
 

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Would I be right in assuming that the best test for beneficial tank bacteria is to simply monitor the water parameters for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate?
As I mentioned in your other thread, yes we can monitor the bacteria indirectly via ammonia and nitrite. in a planted tank, nitrate is of less use as the plants will remove ammonia so nitrate is not made.
 

Bruce Leyland-Jones

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I've written to the manufacturers of a couple of bacteria producers, asking them how they test their products and if such testing could be reasonably applied to us hobbyists. I'll let you know what I get back.
 

Essjay

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Yes, please - it will be interesting to know what they have to say.
 

Byron

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I do not think a test for specific bacteria would ever be feasible or perhaps even possible. A microbiologist can examine the bacteria on "x" surface and tell you what it is, but without examining every surface in the aquarium (which I trust everyone will agree is a complete impossibility to do realistically) there is no way to ascertain the number.

Second problem is that the exact bacteria species responsible for nitrification is, so far as I am aware, still not a certainty. Ammonia is converted to nitrite by bacteria of the Nitrosonomas marina-like strain (Hovanec & DeLong, 1996; Burrell, Phalen & Hovanec, 2001) and nitrite is converted to nitrate by bacteria closely related to Nitrospira moscoviensis and Nitrospira marina (Hovanec, Taylor, Blakis & DeLong, 1998). Subsequent to these papers, archaea and not bacteria is being considered as the actual nitrifiers in established aquaria. I recall reading that the bacteria likely start the nitrification but archaea actually continue it [this was a few years ago I came across this, it would take me some time probably to find it, and subsequent studies may impact it as well].

As for the "bacteria supplements" on the market, Tim Hovanec's is the only one that contains the bacteria species likely involved, according to him (no one else has proven differently, so far as I know), but of course the archaea aspect may impact this claim...?? , The other products like Seachem's Stability and Nutrafin's Cycle contain different bacteria that are not responsible for nitrification, but Hovanec examined some of these products and concluded that even though they do not contain the "right" bacteria, they did serve to speed up the establishment of the nitrifying bacteria to some extent.

There are abstracts of the three cited papers here:
 
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Bruce Leyland-Jones

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I do not think a test for specific bacteria would ever be feasible or perhaps even possible. A microbiologist can examine the bacteria on "x" surface and tell you what it is, but without examining every surface in the aquarium (which I trust everyone will agree is a complete impossibility to do realistically) there is no way to ascertain the number.

Second problem is that the exact bacteria species responsible for nitrification is, so far as I am aware, still not a certainty. Ammonia is converted to nitrite by bacteria of the Nitrosonomas marina-like strain (Hovanec & DeLong, 1996; Burrell, Phalen & Hovanec, 2001) and nitrite is converted to nitrate by bacteria closely related to Nitrospira moscoviensis and Nitrospira marina (Hovanec, Taylor, Blakis & DeLong, 1998). Subsequent to these papers, archaea and not bacteria is being considered as the actual nitrifiers in established aquaria. I recall reading that the bacteria likely start the nitrification but archaea actually continue it [this was a few years ago I came across this, it would take me some time probably to find it, and subsequent studies may impact it as well].

As for the "bacteria supplements" on the market, Tim Hovanec's is the only one that contains the bacteria species likely involved, according to him (no one else has proven differently, so far as I know), but of course the archaea aspect may impact this claim...?? , The other products like Seachem's Stability and Nutrafin's Cycle contain different bacteria that are not responsible for nitrification, but Hovanec examined some of these products and concluded that even though they do not contain the "right" bacteria, they did serve to speed up the establishment of the nitrifying bacteria to some extent.

There are abstracts of the three cited papers here:
It'll be interesting to hear what Microbe-Lift say.
 

Ichthys

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If a bacteria test for aquaria was feasible it would be on sale and heavily advertised no doubt as ‘essential’. It isn’t, so you can safely assume it isn’t feasible.
We don’t need one though, which could be another factor. We already have three such tests, for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.
 

Bruce Leyland-Jones

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If a bacteria test for aquaria was feasible it would be on sale and heavily advertised no doubt as ‘essential’. It isn’t, so you can safely assume it isn’t feasible.
We don’t need one though, which could be another factor. We already have three such tests, for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate.
I'm sure some fishkeepers said exactly that before reliable and easy to use ammonia, nitrite and nitrate tests became readily available, or most other tools that we now enjoy in the hobby. Similarly for the bottled bacteria, which now exists and, I suspect, requires some sort of quality control measures, back at the lab. If you're growing such a product for sale, you'd surely want to be able to monitor and manage the yield, so as to ensure a consistently effective bacterial soup.
 

Utar

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This is all way above my head but very interesting all the same. I have a theory that the bacteria that thrive in an aquatic environments also live in other mediums like air, but maybe not in the abundance found in an aquatic environment. My first tank was a ten gallon with a few tetras and three cories. I used tap water and Tetra AquaSafe that I bought at Walmart. I had yet to learn much about the nitrogen cycle but did so from youtube. So I setup a small hang on the back filter and added bio media. In time I bought the Master Test Kit and started measuring ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. I found that the tank had completed its cycle taking around a month give are take. I had added nothing to help jump start the cycle, no seeded bio media or bacteria in a bottle and the cycle did its thing anyway.

My only conclusion was that the bacteria found its own way found into the tank. This also leads to my second theory. I live close to several small lakes, ponds and pools of water. There is a large main river just three miles from my house. All these aquatic environments have fish, turtles and the occasion alligator. So because I live so close to all these natural sources of the bacteria that is needed in nitrogen cycle, the air around me is heavier with this bacteria then would be say somewhere like a desert or large city areas. Thus making it much easier to naturally allow an aquarium to cycle on its own. But it is just theories.
 

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