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Dr. Elizabeth McCoy:  bacterial strain records and spore stocks

Image: McCoy untested strain stocks Described here is a collection of 127 bacterial strain stocks once owned by microbiologist and professor Dr. Elizabeth McCoy* of the Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin. The collection exists mostly as spores in soil and includes strains not found in public collections. The stocks are accompanied by a strain catalog consisting of 231 hand-written records, and a 1985 letter written by Dr. Leland McClung.

After McCoy, the stocks were held by Dr. Leland McClung of Indiana University...a close associate of McCoy's and her coauthor on papers and books between 1934 and 1941. The date of transfer of the stocks from McCoy to McClung is unknown to me. McClung in 1985 transferred the stocks and records to Dr. Jiann-Shin Chen of the VPI Anaerobe Laboratory in Blacksburg VA (Virginia Polytechnic Institute, now Virginia Tech). Dr. Chen accepted the stocks after the Anaerobe Laboratory and other institutions had been unable to officially take custody. Dr. Chen held the stocks and further annotated the records, becoming an Emeritus Professor in 2010. Having come to know Dr. Chen during my career, I expressed an interest in trying to reactivate some of the strains. The stocks and records were transferred to me in 2014.

The strains in this collection are carbohydrate fermenting, spore forming, obligately anaerobic, non-toxigenic clostridia of two types: 1) those that form butyric acid as their chief organic end product when metabolizing carbohydrate with lesser amounts of acetic acid; and 2) those that form butanol (n-butyl alcohol) as their chief organic end product when metabolizing carbohydrate with lesser amounts of acetone or isopropanol and ethanol. McCoy and others often used the terms "butyric anaerobes" or types, and "butyl anaerobes" or types when referring to these groups of clostridia. Collectively they were the "anaerobic butyric acid bacteria".

For about three decades following WWI the butyl anaerobes were of special importance for large-scale production of n-butanol and acetone by fermentation of corn starch initially, and then molasses. In the U.S.A. the University of Wisconsin was a major source of research publications about these organisms and their activities. Elizabeth McCoy was an author on roughly half of those.

 * McCoy earned her masters degree in Bacteriology from the UW in 1926, doctorate in 1929, and she joined the faculty of Bacteriology in 1930.
 † McClung earned his doctoral degree in Bacteriology from the UW in 1934.
 ‡ ... referring to obligate anaerobes not facultatives. McCoy also made a quantitative distinction, recognizing that other types of bacteria can also produce butyric acid but in lesser amount. For instance consult the survey of butyrate production by gut anaerobes published by Barcenilla et al. 2000. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 66:1654-1661.

For more information please consult:

Records and Stocks

These links are PDF downloads

There are spore stocks for 127 of the cataloged strains, most of which are in screw-cap tubes. The stocks are of three different types:

soil A portion of a sporulated liquid culture dropped into a tube of sterile dried soil/CaCO3 mixture, then vacuum desiccated. They are crumbly.
soilbi A portion of a brain infusion culture dropped into a tube of sterile dried soil/CaCO3 mixture. I could find no detailed description of this procedure, other than that a much larger volume of liquid culture is added to the soil tube. Most of them look mushy.
cm A culture grown and sporulated in corn mash medium, prepared by Dr. McClung shortly before transfer of materials to Dr. Chen.

Collection Notes

The following are things I learned in conversation with Dr. Jiann-Shin Chen, or from digging around in various resources. The reader is reminded that many of the taxonomic names in the McCoy records and the older publications are no longer used.

  • A17, A18, A23, A24 ... The Kral Collection was the first culture collection to provide services...originally curated by Frantisek Kral and then passing into the hands of Ernst Pribram in Vienna. In 1927 Pribram moved to Loyola University in Chicago. The strains he had brought from Vienna became known as the Kral(Pribram) collection. The Vienna Kral collection was destroyed in WWII. Federico Uruburu. 2003. Int. Microbiol. 6(2):101-103.
  • A26, A75 ... McCoy notates "(CSC)" for stock A26 (Commercial Solvents Corporation) and "Pribram" for stock A75, but apart from that the descriptions are identical. These might be the same strain acquired from the two different sources, but this is a guess. "v. Klecki" means "von Klecki".
  • A42, A43 ... Chaim Weizmann gave the name "BY" to his bacillus which eventually became known as Clostridium acetobutylicum, though it did not become the Type Strain (see Jones and Keis, 1995, Origins and relationships of industrial solvent-producing clostridial strains, FEMS Microbiol. Rev. 17(4):223-232). During a search for additional acetone/butanol strains conducted by Sir Frederick Andrewes in 1930, "pink By" strains had been partially isolated. Andrewes sent the samples to E.B. Fred (UW Bacteriology) where the isolation was completed. The isolates were published as Clostridium roseum sp. nov. by McCoy and McClung, 1935, Arch. Mikrobiol. 6:230-238.
  • A131-A134 and B30-B38 ... McCoy and associates sometimes used a micromanipulator to subculture strains from an isolated single cell or spore. The technique was described by Wright and McCoy, 1927, J. Bact. 13:15 Abst. 21 with further detail in Jour. Lab. Clin. Med. 12:795-800. Hildebrand in 1938 published a 5-page HOW-TO of the Wright/McCoy method modified by Wright/Nakajima, in Botanical Review 4(12):627-664.
  • A40 ... V2 refers to the second development stage of the bean plant. Ne is Nebraska.
  • B15 ... Keis et al. reported in 1995 that this strain, Wisconsin D which is an independent C. acetobutylicum isolate, was no longer held by ATCC and could not be recovered from a NRRL B-528 sample (Int J Syst Bacteriol. 45(4):693-705).
  • A37, A38, A39, A42, A43, A44, A47, A48, B14, B26, B27 ... Sir Frederick Andrewes was a British microbiologist. He served as expert witness for the defendants in a patent-infringement action in which Elizabeth McCoy and EB Fred were expert witnesses for the plaintiffs. Summary of the trial. (link out to justia.com).
  • B14 ... McCoy and McClung wrote: "W17 is the original Weizmann culture, preserved in sealed spore stock for seventeen years by Weizmann, and received by us through one intermediate, the late Sir Frederick Andrewes of London. It was accompanied by the note that it was furnished by Dr. Weizmann as the earliest example he possessed of the bacillus which goes by his name." McCoy E, McClung LS. 1935. J. Infectious Diseases 56(3):333-346.
  • the B-series "Marathon" strains ... Dr. Weizmann in U.S. patent 1,315,585 disclosed the serial propagation of his organism (later known as Clostridium acetobutylicum) for 100-150 sporulation cycles as a step in preparing it for production. In the patent infringement case later brought by Commercial Solvents Corp., McCoy and Fred by performing 150 serial transfers in the lab demonstrated that Weizmann's claims were enabled. The strains so produced retained their utility and were termed the "Marathon" strains. See also: McCoy and Fred (1941) "The stability of a culture for industrial fermentation". J. Bacteriol. 41:90-91. Abstract A10. ASM 42nd Annual Meeting.
  • A36 ... I can find no information about this strain regarding "L.G. Marathon". A36 cannot be one of the B-series Marathon strains if it produces isobutanol.
  • A37, A39, A41, A67, A69 ... These strains were tested by Reid Leonard for their ability to produce butanol-acetone from processed wood hydrolysate. Strain A39 was found to be the most suitable of the strains tested.  Based on information in Reid Leonard's 1947 Ph.D. thesis, I think that strain NRRL B‑466 "39‑90" was deposited into NRRL by Reid Leonard (not "Reid, L.") and is probably A39 after being serially propagated in wood hydrolysate for 90 passages.
  • A49, B28 ... The "Hall" of strain H is Ivan C. Hall of UC‑Berkeley and then the University of Colorado.
  • A5, A65 ... This strain is sometimes referenced as "W5", where the W stands for "Winogradsky". ATCC 861 is not listed in the ATCC online catalog.
  • A5, A24, A33, A39, A41, A43, A60, A61, A63, A68 ... Rob Spalding Spray in his study of Granulose staining uses these strains obtained from E. McCoy. Spray RS. 1948. J. Bacteriol. 55(1):79-84.
  • A78 ... The species name Paraplectrum foetidum is mentioned in the introduction of A.F.M El-Erian's doctoral thesis in connection with a role in the flavor of limburger cheese that had been postulated by H. Weigmann in 1898 (A.F.M. El-Erian, doctoral thesis, 1969, Laboratory of Microbiology, Agricultural University, Wageningen, The Netherlands). Strain A78 would hence seem to be one of Weigmann's limburger isolates. Weigmann's 1898 paper is listed in the 1939 McCoy/McClung anaerobe bibliography  ("Weigmann H. 1898. Ueber zwei an der Käsereifung beteiligte Bakterien. Centbl. Bakt. (etc.), 2 abt. 4:820-834"). A computer translation of its title is "About two bacteria involved in cheese ripening".
  • A27, A73 ... Potter and McCoy state that Clostridium pectinovorum has been variously called Plectridium pectinovorum, Granulobacter pectinovorum, and Bacillus amylobacter and was the first bacterium to be considered a retting agent (Potter and E. Mccoy. 1952. J. Bacteriol. 64:701-708).
  • A73 ... Eugene Rosenblum and Perry Wilson of UW-Madison used "C. pectinovorum 73" in a study of nitrogen fixation published in 1949 (J. Bacteriol. 57(4):413-414).
  • A29, A30, A31, A32, A33 ... The words 'plectridia' and 'plectridial' are terms of morphology meaning a club shape, but different from the club shape of 'clostridia' and 'clostridial'. Images of plectridia can be found in McCoy et al. (1930) J. Infectious Diseases 46:118-137 and Weizmann and Hellinger (1940) J. Bacteriol. 40:665-682. The genus name 'Plectridium' was once used but is no longer.
  • A109, A110, A111, A112, A113, A114, A115 ... These are all starch-fermenting butyric anaerobes, probably producing some neutral solvents based on Dorothy Reid's comments about odor. Isolation sources named by Reid are: 13-Colorado soil; 14-soil in Waukesha county; 17-Dodge county soil; 18-Dodge county soil; 26-U.W. silage; CR-cranberries; RT-retting grass from Virginia (Dorothy Reid, masters dissertation 1934).
  • A140 ... According to the 1943 University of Wisconsin masters thesis of Jean Switzer (McCoy lab): strain A140 (strain 88-9) was isolated as a derivative of C. madisonii strain 16JA for showing resistance to "phage A" and "phage B". Strain 16JA had been isolated from C. madisonii strain A16 for showing resistance to phage A. Phages A and B originated in a butanol/acetone/ethanol production facility in Puerto Rico.
  • A188, A189, A190, A191 ... See Wiley AJ, Johnson MJ, McCoy E, Peterson WH. 1941. Acetone-butyl alcohol fermentation of waste sulfite liquor. Indus. Eng. Chem. 33:606-610.