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New bacterium found in manure


May 14, 2012 – The cable show Dirty Jobs has some serious scientific competition from Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists who have identified a new bacterium species in a manure storage pit.

Concentrated livestock production facilities often store and treat manure in lagoons or deep pits. However, this practice can result in the production of noxious odors that adversely affect air quality, livestock health and human health.

ARS researchers are looking at a range of options for mitigating the odors associated with manure storage, including methods that target the bacteria responsible for odor production. ARS is the chief intramural scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and this research supports the USDA priority of ensuring food safety.

ARS microbiologists Terry Whitehead and Mike Cotta at the agency’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., conducted population surveys to identify and characterize the different bacteria that live in these environments. One of their goals was to find strains of hyper-ammonia-producing (HAP) bacteria, which can produce and release significantly larger amounts of ammonia than other types of bacteria.

When Whitehead and Cotta conducted an isolation procedure for bacteria that may produce ammonia, they found seven unknown bacterial isolates. Using additional gene sequencing techniques, the researchers analyzed these isolates and confirmed that they belonged to a previously unknown bacterial species in the genus Peptostreptococcus. Until this discovery, researchers had only identified two other species — P. anaerobius and P. stomatis — within the genus Peptostreptococcus.

This new species produced such prodigious amounts of ammonia that it met the criteria for classification as a HAP bacterium. The scientists think studying this newly identified species could provide valuable information about the mechanisms involved in the production of noxious odors in manure pits. This knowledge, in turn, could help in the development of strategies for mitigating the microbial processes that result in these odors.

The new species was named Peptostreptococcus russellii, in honor of the late James B. Russell, an ARS researcher who made many substantial contributions to rumen microbiology, including the initial isolation of HAP bacteria.

Results from this study were published in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.