Comparing Live Bacteria Products

by Freda Bauer, Senior Microbiologist

Many competitors have products on the market claiming to be effective in establishing biological filtration. Some claim to be equivalent to or, as effective as, FritzZyme® 7 and 9 in establishing nitrification. They are available as either liquid or dry (powder or tablet) products.

In truth, these products have little, if any, of the true nitrifying species of bacteria, Nitrosomonas (NS) and Nitrobacter (NB), which are found in FritzZyme® 7 and 9. What they do contain, primarily, are the same species of heterotrophic bacteria found in FritzZyme® 360. They produce enzymes that break down (degrade) the organic debris (sludge) and waste products produced in the aquarium. Most liquid-type products contain little or none of the true nitrifiers. Instead, they rely on the ability of their product to maintain tolerable levels of ammonia and nitrite until naturally occurring NS and NB can become established. This could be a very long process considering the very slow reproductive rate of these two species.

Some manufacturers recommend the addition of gravel or water from an established tank. This is their only source of nitrifying bacteria. An element of risk is involved with this method because of the potential of introducing disease-causing pathogens into the new tank.

Hagen USA’s “CYCLE” and Aquatronics’ “BACTER ZYME I & II” are examples. They are equivalent to Fritz’s FritzZyme® 360 Sludge Remover. They are excellent at degrading sludge and, under ideal conditions, will help control ammonia and nitrite levels. Tests showed that neither “CYCLE” or “BACTER ZYME” had any effect in reducing ammonia or nitrites in saltwater.

Aquatronics’ “BACTER PLUS” liquid is said to contain over one billion bacteria per ounce (implying NS and NB bacteria) plus other beneficial bacteria for fresh and saltwater use. This is probably a combination equivalent of FritzZyme® 360 and dilute FritzZyme® 7 or 9. FritzZyme® 360 contains over 2.5 billion bacteria per ounce. The species of NS and NB bacteria necessary for optimal performance in either fresh or saltwater are not the same. “BACTER PLUS” dry pack appears to be equivalent to FritzZyme® 360 powder, plus a small bottle of liquid “nitrifiers” is included. “BACTER PLUS” was not available at the time our comparative tests were conducted.

Precision Aquarium Testing’s “SURE START” is a little culture kit which contains NS bacteria, water conditioners, buffers and food sources for both NS and NB bacteria. It does not come with NB, which must be ordered from the manufacturer (“NITROBACTER CULTURE”) or grown from an inoculation of gravel and water from an established tank. Bacteria must be cultured for three days before use. In our laboratory tests, “SURE START” did not appear to contain enough NS to rapidly lower ammonia levels. “NITROBACTER CULTURE” was not available at the time our comparative tests were conducted.

Dry product formulations are by far the most common. These products consist of sludge removing and other non-pathogenic, heterotrophic species of bacteria and their culture media. Formulations may vary to some degree, but they all perform the same functions. They all contain bacteria species that digest proteins, fats, oils, cellulose and starch. These bacteria survive air-drying by producing spores. NS and NB bacteria do not produce spores and are killed if dried. Dry cultures, therefore, do not contain any viable nitrifying bacteria.

These are similar to liquid sludge removers, but possess broader applications and function equally well in fresh, brackish and saltwater. They should also be considered as biological aids to nitrification. They are effective in controlling ammonia and nitrite in new aquariums and in degrading sludge in established ones. They are not effective substitutes for long-term nitrifying biological filtration.

Sludge removers should only be used in systems with established biological filtration. They are intended for use as a biological aid to filtration. They cannot and should not be used to replace natural nitrification processes which are the only sure way to remove ammonia and nitrites permanently and safely. Beware of any dried bacterial culture products that claim to establish nitrification. They cannot contain any viable Nitrosomonas or Nitrobacter nitrifying bacteria as these species will not survive any air-drying process. Instead, they rely on the slow process of naturally-occurring nitrifiers becoming eventually established in the aquarium.

FritzZyme® 7 (freshwater) and 9 (brackish and marine) contain pure cultures of live Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria. FritzZyme® 7 and 9 give nitrification a tremendous boost by introducing over two million bacteria per ounce of product to rapidly accelerate the nitrification process. Always use these products when setting up a new aquarium to quickly and safely establish the biological filter.

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