Customers who are curious about our beneficial bacteria products frequently ask us about the science behind them. We’ve all heard of bacteria, but what exactly are they and how do they work?
Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms. Technically, they are prokaryotic cells, which means they lack the enclosed nucleus and membrane-bound organelles found in the eukaryotic cells that make up the human body. Although too small to be seen by the naked eye, bacteria are one of the oldest life forms on earth and are present virtually everywhere in the environment. They inhabit everything from water, air, and soil, to hot springs, radioactive waste, and polar ice. Even the human body contains literally trillions of (mostly harmless) bacteria.
Usually we think of bacteria as dangerous entities due to their association with infection and food poisoning. In fact, however, the number of beneficial bacteria far outweighs the number of potentially harmful bacteria. Indeed, bacteria are absolutely crucial to the natural recycling of nutrients throughout the environment. Without them, dead organic material would simply fail to decompose at an ecologically viable rate. This decomposing function of bacteria—their ability to consume a wide range of organic matter, break that matter down into its nutritive building blocks, and cycle it back into the ecosystem in a more beneficial form—is precisely what makes them such a powerful tool for aquaculture and pond health.
The key to this process is enzyme production. Enzymes are protein molecules that catalyze, or accelerate, the many chemical reactions vital to life. All living organisms produce enzymes. For example, when you eat, your body produces saliva containing the enzyme amylase, which breaks down starches into simpler sugar molecules. (Many animals, such as cats and dogs, are unable to secrete amylase into their saliva; they therefore eat significantly less starch-based food than humans do.)
Bacteria use enzymes in essentially the same manner, secreting them to convert organic material in the surrounding environment into a simpler, digestible form. In fact, bacteria are capable of producing an astonishingly diverse range of enzymes to suit the food sources available to them. This is a useful trait, since enzymes are highly specific; most are capable of targeting only one kind of material substrate and breaking it down into only one specific kind of end product. Bacteria thus also benefit from being able to secrete whole teams of enzymes at once—a prerequisite for breaking down more molecularly complex materials that contain more than one kind of substrate. At Organic Pond, we’ve carefully selected our bacteria for the teams of enzymes they produce, the specific organic substrates those enzymes target, and the harmless end products that remain after those substrates decompose. How does all of this translate into a healthy pond?
In ponds, a major food source for bacteria is the layer of muck at the bottom, specifically the fish waste, dead algae and leaves contained therein. Typically, beneficial aerobic bacteria already exist in this muck layer, but they’re unable to begin consuming it because they’re stuck in a dormant, inactive state. The problem is a lack of dissolved oxygen; before they can decompose the noxious muck material through enzymatic reactions, the bacteria need oxygen, as fuel, to begin secreting enzymes in the first place.
One solution is to install a water aeration system, which creates airflow and a more aerobic environment at the bottom of the pond. Another solution is to augment the already present, naturally occurring bacteria by adding our powerful bacteria blend, which contains many more times the amount of beneficial microbes already in the pond. These added bacteria attack the muck layer from the outside, eventually degrading it down to a more ecologically suitable size. Through natural enzymatic reactions, the bacteria convert the degraded muck into harmless carbon dioxide and inert, equally harmless carbon ash. An additional benefit is that the bacteria compete with noxious weeds and algae for nutrients, reducing their numbers through a natural process of competitive exclusion.
All of these aspects make bacteria the perfect, natural alternative to chemical-based applications. In short, chemicals only treat the symptom, whereas bacteria allow you to intervene in the actual, naturally occurring processes underlying aquaculture and pond ecology.