The Shocking Truth About Nitrifying Bacteria Products


Nitrifying Bacteria.

Two of the most divisive words in the aquarium hobby.  It is quite the phenomenon how these bacteria, which perform the most important function to the health of the overall aquarium, has created such a complete mess of bad information, lack of understanding, and outright disdain.And the sheer amount of different varieties of the aforementioned is troubling.

At ATM Aquarium Products we deal with biological cultures on a daily basis, most visibly our true nitrifying bacteria culture Colony.  These cultures are relied upon by home aquarists, public aquariums, aquaculture, aquaponics, waste water, and a number of other industries where the rapid establishing of bio-filtration comes at a premium.  All told, ATM’s team has 30 years of experience formulating, packaging, and distributing biological cultures including nitrifying bacteria (the real ones).

Because of this unmatched experience with the application of producing and distributing biological cultures, the following is the definitive information and fact sheet you will need on nitrifying bacteria and nitrifying bacteria products.

While reading this article it is important to remember that these are the facts.  All of these facts can be checked and verified very easily with minimal effort.  The kind of microbes we are discussing have long since been classified, isolated, studied, and applied as bio-remediation tools for a long time.

There will be a few laughs, a few tears, and a few uncomfortable moments, but we’ll get through this together!

Ready?  Let’s do it!



  1. Wow great information guys. I feel like I just complete bio 101 of my aquarium. Thank you for posting this!

    • You’re welcome Tony! Thanks for taking the time to Trust The Shark!

  2. Here here. Keep the facts coming, its good to hear these useful truths to put people’s minds at rest.

  3. Love the show but will yous ever sell your products international as I live in Ireland

  4. My question might be off the subject a bit, I have a 55 gallon cichlid tank and can’t keep my nitrates below 80ppm ,any suggestions

    • Hello Todd,

      No worries. To pull you down quickly dial back your feeding 50% for a week. The fish will be fine. They are evolved to go even weeks without eating at all. Begin a 20% water change regimen every two weeks. This will remove the nitrates as well as improve the overall health of the system by resupplying the ecosystem with necessary trace elements.

      Stock up on our product Outbreak! This is a very high powered commercial grade organics consuming bacteria that will go a long way toward preventing additional nitrates from entering the water column. Decomposing organics release nitrate, so consuming them prior to release helps a ton.

      This is the easiest and most sensible way to deal with nitrate. In contrast to what some insinuate, there are no bacteria that convert nitrate into a non-toxic substance the way we see ammonia and nitrite converted.

      Good luck if you have any other questions drop them below

  5. I’m a fan of your show it’s funny and very informative as I sometimes shop on eBay and watch YouTube reviews for products such as colony and outbreak which I’ve never tried I came across this channel on YouTube ( pond guru) he sells stuff on eBay and has a place called Tyne Valley Aquatics in the UK. He claims his gel media balls are the only true nitrifying bacteria product out there. They are supposed to slowly dissolve in your filter where you put your biological filter media which he also claims he has the best out there ( bio ultra media ) so I’m not gonna slam anyone’s product or risk a slander suit but your Outbreak and Colony is supposedly not as good as the gel bio balls he sells on eBay. I wish I could test them both but I’m already into my first few days of cycling a 56 gallon Cichlid tank I wish I could believe all that I read about your products since I’m a fan of your show but I tried 2 products already with no luck ( snake oil ) and am very hesitant about spending another 20 or 25 dollars on a bottle of beneficial bacteria. So in ending since I am a fan can you please give me some advice on how I can get my tank fully cycled without having to wait 6 to 8 weeks ? I’d really like to try your products but I’m very gun shy as I’ve spent quite a lot of money already. Sincerely a true ATM Tanked fan Victor F.

    • Hello Victor,

      Nitrifying bacteria (aerobic autotrophs) need to be in liquid to survive. As mentioned in the article, these bacteria do not create spores, therefore when dried the cell walls break down and the bacteria dies. You will not find aerobic autotrophs living dry in dirt, sand, powder or in a sandwich bag. There is s reason that aquarists do not let their bio-filtration media dry.

      If a product recommends adding bacteria in increments they are selling not autotrophs but organics consumers. Nitrifying bacteria live for almost two weeks with no food, which is ample time to feed them. It even allows time to correct issues in the water column that could be preventing oxidization. Any excess will die off but that is the whole idea: to start with way more than you need rather than a precious few. That would defeat the entire objective.

      You are right to utilize caution when choosing a rapid cycle product. This blog is a great help.

      At the end of the day, its a good idea to use what the pros use. Colony has been used in new exhibits for three public aquariums in Australia and in the first public aquarium being built in Sri Lanka just in the last few months alone.

      If you decide to take a different route, the only other productive option would be to import media (wet) from a system with a high bio load and roll the dice with bacteria count. Make sure media is proper housing for bacteria and comes from a high flow area of the system.

      Warning: Importing media could result in transmitting parasites and other pathogens which are dangerous to your fish.

      Good luck and if you have any other questions holler back!

  6. We have a “Trout in the Classroom” project at a local school. Ammonia is lately stubbornly high (2–4 PPM) and we’re getting some mortality. This acquarium is maintained at 55 degrees F. Will Colony bacteria work and persist in this colder water?

    • Hello Kirk,

      Yes, Colony will work in low temperatures but barely. You will need lots and lots of bacteria.

      It is a great question. Because nitrifying bacteria convert nitrogen faster and more efficiently in optimum temperatures and conditions, the bacteria colony in such a system will be much, much smaller than one in a system that is much colder.

      Because conversion happens much more inefficiently in colder temperatures, exponentially more bacteria is needed to pick up the slack.

      Are you getting any conversion? Do you have any nitrite or nitrate levels?

  7. Hi first off I gotta say i love the show, I watch it whenever I have to time. I love the fishies hehe. Okay so here’s my question. I don’t really have the time i would like to keep a large aquarium so I got a smaller 10 gallon one. But recently I found out that my aquarium has a leak. I was wondering is there a specific type of aquarium glue I could get to use and fix it or would I just have to buy a new aquarium. I have 2 two year old gold fish and I actually thought that my larger one was splashing water out of the tank. Till I examined it and realized after I cleaned up the mess the water was still coming out from underneath. If there is a type of glue or sealant I could get and if so do you all sell it or where would I get it? Please help save my tank.

  8. Hello Tahiyyah,

    Sorry for the late response. Missed this one. Please visit for information on acrylic, sealants, and epoxies.


  9. I am wondering how you respond to the plethora of research showing that the bacteria in aquariums that oxidize nitrite are not Nitrobacter but are Nitrospira since you have the former in Colony (at least the fw version) and not the latter. And to use your own words, this is fact.

    Nitrospira-Like Bacteria Associated with Nitrite Oxidation in Freshwater Aquaria

    Timothy A. Hovanec1,2,*,
    Lance T. Taylor1,†,
    Andrew Blakis1, and
    Edward F. Delong1
    Appl. Environ. Microbiol. January 1998 vol. 64 no. 1 258-264

    The above paper has been cited by numerous subsequent researchers and cited regularly. But I am sure you folks are already aware of this information. So what I wonder is, while you accurately “slam” products which are all spores for very good reasons, why you have the wrong nitrite oxidizers in Colony and then imply you have the correct ones? Fortunately, the research shows that even when folks start out with the wrong nitrite oxidizers when cycling a tank by the time the tank is cycled it will contain Nitrospira and little or no Nitrobacter.

    This is especially egregious because this information has been known for over 15 years. Even those who now believe it is the Archaea which oxidize ammonia in aquariums agree that it is the Nitrospira which oxidize the nitrite.

    Sorry to have somewhat rained on your parade, but in light of your statements, I thought is only fair that the actual facts get mentioned here. Somehow I have the feeling that this comment will only make it as far as your Recycle Bin.

    • Chris L.

      The research you provided is not an independent study. That is work done by persons contracted by a competing aquatics company at the time (Marineland) and I am very familiar with it and its nature. But in all fairness, our article carries bias as well so I can’t expect you to just up and believe that. With over ten years in this “debate”, I know better than to lead you any further down the road of internet confusion. Research and marketing commonly goes hand and hand and too often the marketing hand unfortunately dictates the flow of information found in research.

      Your next step is to verify yourself, through the scientific method of actual use, if what you read fits with the results. Please take my advice on this. It is the fastest way out of your understood confusion and what takes Colony out of the cross hairs of doubters.

      You will not find us running away from our assertions about Nitrobacter. Now that your feeling was wrong about what would happen to your comment, I leave it up to you to discover why I have double down on Colony and the Nitrobacter that is in it. Since I had the integrity to answer your question, I ask you try the product and see for yourself.

      It is my opinion that companies have to earn the trustworthiness of their claims. So far, Colony has done nothing but shock and surprise people. Even skeptics. We have glowing testimonials from hobbyists, LFS owners, fish wholesalers, and everything in between. That is what you should be taking to heart. That is what should be telling the tale because they are not on ATM’s payroll. We have scientists too. If you like, we can have them write up a bunch of research papers with the shark logo on it showing how superior Nitrobacter is, but you really don’t want that.

      So, definitively I will state to you that Nitrobacter is not the “wrong” bacteria for rapid bio-filtration no matter what you or any other people from other companies say. If you want to try and prove it wrong you gotta get your hands dirty. That’s where it begins and ends.

      Best of luck,
      S. Blood

  10. As I read down through the list of comments, I couldn’t believe there wasn’t an “I know better” or “this study proves you wrong” post. No matter the topic, there’s always someone ready to answer the call to challenge, conflict and discredit the person or people who “get their hands dirty” doing the job every day.

    Imagine the original writer’s surprise to find his or her post “posted” for all to see, not relegated to the recycle bin as expected! And if that weren’t enough, your polite, thoughtful, and informative response only cemented your professionalism.

    Admittedly, I haven’t tried any of your products – I visited your site hoping to find an ATM tank for a “regular” guy. My son and I love the show, especially the problem-solving and plain ol’ fun that is a part of every episode!

    Keep up the great work!

    Matt P.
    Veto Beach, FL

  11. Hello Guys!

    I love your show, mostly love when you shop for the fish for your clients.

    I have Blood Parrots, I love these fish, they are so friendly and cute!!
    I have a problem…..

    I had in the past used ONLY bottled water, and NEVER had a problem with nitrates. I set up a new tank and am using only WELL water. The problem is that I now have a problem with nitrates, at 80ppm , never more but they wont go down. I have done water changes once a week, cut down on feeding, in reality I have done nothing different than I had in the past, but now am using the WELL water. Do you think that the WELL water could be causing this problem? I will tell you that I am now ONLY adding BOTTLED water after cleaning and topping off. Would you suggest using OUTBREAK to clear this up?


    • Hello Cindie, what is your well water reading on nitrate before you put it in the aquarium?

    • HI again,

      My nitrate before, as I did test it because I thought that it might be the problem; was 0.

      OK, get out you thinking cap, and figure this one out! Because I sure cant!

      Thanks, Cindie

    • Hey Cindie,

      It is pretty typical for aquariums to collect nitrate. It accumulates mostly from bio-filtration but can also attributed to decomposing organics. Outbreak! would help with the organics part, but you will still always have nitrate from ammonia –> nitrite conversion. The only way that the change in water would affect nitrate production is if the well water has a much higher alkalinity value than bottled water which would make nitrification much more efficient, or even possible… this is likely. Bottled water is not a good thing for aquariums since a lot of them carry a pH of as low as 2 and alkalinity values of near or at zero. Unless you are buffering with an additive to “age” it more harm is done than good. The only bottled water that would be acceptable would be Fiji which carries a pH of 6.5 and a total alkalinity of around 240. If you have access to regular tap water go with that. It is the most balanced water with the right amount of stuff in it. But, minimal bi-weekly water changes should be a part of your life with an aquarium not only to take the bad stuff out but to put the good stuff back in. Make sure the bottled water is close to the “real world”. Bottled water isn’t that.

      This is a great question and if I can help further just holler back!


  12. Hi Guys.
    Just a note to let you know that I have had great success with your products since discovering them by accident at my local fish stockist.
    I have recently given my marine Aquarium a makeover only because I was able to to do it quickly using Colony, fish in and happy within hours, small phosphate reading later on in the process but to my suprise Agent Green worked its magic in one go .
    And later on using Outbrake once a week to keep everything in check.

    The reason I write this is I have just purchased a larger aquarium and will be going through the whole thing again only on a larger tank.
    And although all test readings during the with the exception of the phosphate were spot on. I still went through the algae stage, green then red not clearing totally
    for several weeks my question is could this be avoided ?

    Thanks for listening………Geoff

    • Hello Geoff,

      I think what you are asking is if you can avoid going through an algae issue bloom. The key to this is to stay on top of your phosphate and organics. Organics become nitrate and phosphate later and all kinds of other nasty stuff. Outbreak! and Agent Green actually work best as prevention tools. Algae is always a pain in the butt, however you can keep it at bay if you know what you’re doing. Keep organics down. Keep phosphate down. Don’t over-run your lights.

      Starting Outbreak! from the get-go will be a huge positive.

  13. If I buy your Colony and Outbreak Products, can I instantly use them in my set up or do I need to start over completely , because I recall you saying that what you call BAD bacteria spores that I already have in there mainly from seachem stability and reproduction would kill your TRUE bacteria? Or did I just misunderstand what you said?

    • Hello James,

      Yes you can use Colony and Outbreak! together in the aquarium. They just cannot be packaged together in the same bottle. To clarify, the article describes how these two products cannot be packaged together due to their nature. What must be done to keep Outbreak! bacteria in their spores to survive packaging for a very long duration, by use of inhibitors, would kill the non-spore forming bacteria in Colony.

      This dynamic is completely not an issue once they enter the aquarium.

      I hope this helps!



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