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Environmental Analysis

Psychrophilic actinomycetes [PSYCHRO]

Published: July 8th, 2009

Revised: February 23rd, 2023

This test determines the presence of culturable psychrophilic actinomycetes in bulk and swab samples. Results of this test are provided semiquantiatively, as 1+, 2+, 3+, etc., where the numeral preceding the “plus sign” indicates the order of magnitude of colonies recovered in culture.

Actinomycetes are a large and diverse group of Gram-positive bacteria that have growth habits similar to fungi in that they produce branching networks of filaments. Psychrophilic actinomycetes grow optimally at low temperatures, particularly below 15°C. They occur in a variety of habitats, particularly soils. They are also known from highly specialized habitats such as glaciers, antarctic rocks, and penguin rookeries. Other groups of actinomycetes are known to occur at moderate temperatures or in the presence of extreme heat.

Actinomycetes are notable as prolific producers of microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs). Indeed in this regard, they tend to be much more active than most fungi. Some of the mVOCs commonly produced by actinomycetes are responsible largely for the mouldy or musty odours associated with soils as well as damp basements. Actinomycetes are also extremely active producers of antimicrobial chemicals. Many of the naturally produced antimicrobial drugs in common use today are derived from actinomycetes (e.g. streptomycin, nystatin, and tetracycline). Inhalation exposure to cells and other materials colonized by actinomycetes has been associated with respiratory diseases such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis. This is particularly evident in agricultural settings where actinomycete exposures are known to play a role in the disease known as Farmer’s Lung.

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