Winogradsky Column


Ever since Wayne Lanier introduced me to the notion of a Winogradsky column I have wanted to make one. Today was the day. If you Google up ‘Winogradsky column’ you will find hundreds of provacative descriptions like this one from the Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute:

During the 1880s, Sergei Winogradsky developed a device that allowed the study of microbial communities in aquatic and soil environments (Tortora, Funke and Case, 1998). This cylinder-like device, now known as the Winogradsky column, provides an environment where anaerobic and aerobic organisms can be grown, isolated, and studied while exposed to varying amounts of light and oxygen. Biodiversity within the column becomes apparent as the column ages and many microbial colonies become visible, forming various regions of color. Aerobic organisms gradually reproduce and colonize the upper regions of the Winogradsky column. Algae, aerobic sulfur bacteria, and cyanobacteria are found in the upper layer of the column where oxygen is available. Descending down the column, the quantity of oxygen gradually decreases changing from an aerobic to an anaerobic environment. Organisms that require environments low or without oxygen colonize the lower regions of the column. In the upper regions of the anaerobic zone of the column, purple non-sulfur bacteria, which appear reddish purple to rust, and purple-sulfur producing bacteria, which appear in violet patches, can be seen. In the lower anaerobic regions, where the highest concentration of hydrogen sulfide is located, green sulfur bacteria appear as green patches. Green sulfur bacteria are resistant to high hydrogen sulfide concentrations typically found in these regions of the Winogradsky column.

The sampling site

This shot shows my sample site, a slough-side pan adjacent to the north levee of Salt Pond N1 in wetter times. The Coyote Hills are visible in the distance. This is a stitch of four separate images.

For a couple of years now, Wayne and I have been sampling the same small pool in a brackish pan on the slough side of Salt Pond N1’s levee. This little pool has varied in interesting ways over the years and serves as hosts to a range of micro-organisms.

My Winogradsky column project began with the search for a suitable container.

A one-liter pyrex cylinder

1. A $12 find on EBay. Marked Pyrex, this old cylinder has no volume marks.

Sample site for Winogradsky column material

2. My starter material was harvested from a small marsh pan near Salt Pond N1 that Wayne Lanier and I have been sampling for two years. This pool was as low in water as I have ever seen it. For this time of year (end of the dry season) it also lacked its usual fringe of purple froth.

Additional ingredients for the Winogradsky column

3. Who says I can’t cook. To the marsh mud we add half of an egg yolk, a pinch of baking soda, and some shredded newspaper then top the column off with marsh water reserved for the purpose.

Egg yolk going into the Winogradsky mix

4. The Californian axiom — presentation is everything

Winogradsky column filled

5. As I filled the column I used the add a bit, tamp a bit method to eliminate air bubbles. A large wood dowel served as my tamper.

The Winogradsky column inside

6. I am anxiously waiting to see if passes muster as a decorative object. While doing so I will also ponder the proper seismic restaint. This is a container you do not want spilled!

2 Responses to “Winogradsky Column”

  1. Andrew Says:

    you wrote “a egg yolk.” It should be “an egg yolk.” You have a great sense of humor.

  2. Sandy Malluck Says:

    I’m teaching AP environmental science this fall, and I ‘m going to set up a column this week. How soon can I expect to see some organisms ‘of color’ appearing and how long will the column develop before the H2S is all used up? Did you really only use HALF of an egg yolk? looked like an entire egg salad serving to me. (I must be hungry). I am going to use fresh water here. Will we get some of the the same types of orgs. as your diagram?
    Thanks for any help- S.M.