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Investigating the Nature of Bacterial Spores

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Bacterial spores reveal their secrets

An EU-funded initiative studied the unusual biochemical and biophysical characteristics of bacterial spores to help overcome resistance to treatment in spore-forming pathogens.


When faced with starvation, the model bacterium Bacillus subtilis begins the process of sporulation, resulting in the formation of spores. These are the most resilient type of cells known and can withstand extremes of heat, radiation and chemical attack through mechanisms that are not clearly understood. Consequently, spore-forming bacteria, which include dangerous pathogens, are highly resistant to antibacterial treatments and difficult to eradicate. Despite major advances in understanding spore formation, little is known about the nature of the mature spore, such as how they remain dormant, how dormancy ceases and the organisation of the mature spore. The EU funded project BACTERIAL SPORES (Investigating the nature of bacterial spores) targeted this knowledge gap, addressing fundamental questions in spore biology by exploring their molecular characteristics. Researchers investigated the nature of spores by using B. subtilis as an experimental system, and showed that contrary to current thinking molecular changes take place within mature spores. It was also demonstrated that the ability of dormant cells to convert back to actively growing cells (germination) is affected by spore age and incubation temperature. Scientists further analysed in detail the remarkable ability of spores to revive by studying the reviving spore phosphoproteome, which comprises a protein containing a phosphate group. They also defined a distinctive morphological stage during spore revival between germination and cell elongation termed the ripening period, and tracked proteins synthesised during revival. BACTERIAL SPORES also revealed for the first time that protein synthesis takes place during germination. Furthermore, novel revival-specific components were identified, which could become key therapeutic targets for eradicating spore-forming pathogens. The project introduced new concepts into the field of spore biology, thereby contributing to new ways of combating spore-forming pathogens. In addition, other projects have built on BACTERIAL SPORES to discover bacterial communication mediated by intercellular nanotubes and to define the localisation of mRNA as a cue for gene regulation in bacteria.


Bacterial spores, spore-forming pathogens, Baccillus subtilis, sporulation, phosphoproteome

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