Nitrifying bacteria do not last forever in a bottle. The first thing you should look for on the bottle is whether there is a born-on or expiration date.There are many brands of nitrifying bacteria on the market. However, several do not provide a date that tells you either when the product was bottled or when it expires – you should avoid these products. Other products provide some sort of secret code that is impossible to decipher, which is just as worthless as having no date label. Of all the products available to the fish hobbyists, nitrifying bacteria are at the top of list of products that should carry a date label. Why? Because nitrifying bacteria are living organisms whose function decreases over time, once they are bottled and no longer have access to food and oxygen. Currently, the technology does not exist to extend the shelf life of nitrifying bacteria much past one year. (A caveat: this discussion assumes that the product actually contains the right nitrifiers in the first place). DrTim’s Aquatics One & Only Live Nitrifying bacteria are clearly labeled with a best buy date so the buyer knows exactly how old the bacteria are. (Note: the bacteria can still be used after this date and they will help accelerate the onset of nitrification in the aquarium, but they will not work as fast as fresh product).
Some people assume that nitrifiers can’t “live” long in a bottle because they starve to death due to lack of food (ammonia or nitrite), or suffocate because of the lack of oxygen. However, this is wrong on both accounts, and gives human-like traits to bacteria (technically called anthropomorphism). Unlike humans, bacteria can survive very long periods of time without their “food,” which is one reason they have survived for billions of years. As bacteria sense their environment is not providing what they need to reproduce, they go into a survival mode. For some bacteria this means forming a spore which is like a protective cocoon; this bacteria are called spore-formers.
But nitrifying bacteria are not spore-formers; what they do is drastically slow down their metabolism, produce internal preservation substances that protect the cell and then shut down, waiting for conditions to improve. The only way a bacterial cell truly “dies” is if the cell wall breaks apart (called cell lyses) and the cell contents spill out, or if the cell is poisoned by some substance that penetrates the cell wall and kills the cell.
Once the nitrifiers are bottled, their conservation process starts. How quickly they shut down depends on their metabolic state when they were bottled. If the bacteria were really active and in full growth phase when bottled, it will be a while before they shutdown (placing the bottled solution in a cold climate like a refrigerator helps extend time before complete shutdown). But bottling bacteria from poor culture conditions means the bacteria will not stay active in the bottle for long. And under no conditions do the bacteria remain really active after a year or so. Products claiming a shelf life of three years of more are stretching to say the least.
Here is where the experience and knowledge of the microbiologist growing the bacteria comes into play and is one of the secrets to the high activity and long shelf life of DrTim’s Aquatics One & Only Live nitrifying bacteria. The biologists at DrTim’s Aquatics have been studying and growing nitrifying bacteria for over 16 years and are experts in all phases of growing and bottling nitrifiers to make sure the product is in the best shape for the longest time. Next time you reach for that bottle of nitrifiers, check the date – like a nice cold beer there is no place in the world for stale nitrifiers.