The effects of moisture and oxygen concentration on germination of Bacillus cereus and B. subtilis var. niger spores were investigated in a simulated Martian environment. Less moisture was required for germination than for vegetative growth of both organisms. A daily freeze-thaw cycle lowered moisture requirements for spore germination and vegetative growth of both organisms, as compared with a constant 35 C environment. Oxygen had a synergistic effect by lowing the moisture requirements for vegetative growth, and possibly germination, of both organisms. Oxygen was not required for spore germination of either organism, but was required for vegetative growth of B. subtilis and for sporulation of both organisms.
Spore-forming bacteria are of particular concern in the context of planetary protection because their tough endospores may withstand certain sterilization procedures as well as the harsh environments of outer space or planetary surfaces. To test their hardiness on a hypothetical mission to Mars, spores of Bacillus subtilis 168 and Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 were exposed for 1.5 years to selected parameters of space in the experiment PROTECT during the EXPOSE-E mission on board the International Space Station. Mounted as dry layers on spacecraft-qualified aluminum coupons, the “trip to Mars” spores experienced space vacuum, cosmic and extraterrestrial solar radiation, and temperature fluctuations, whereas the “stay on Mars” spores were subjected to a simulated martian environment that included atmospheric pressure and composition, and UV and cosmic radiation. The survival of spores from both assays was determined after retrieval. It was clearly shown that solar extraterrestrial UV radiation (λ≥110 nm) as well as the martian UV spectrum (λ≥200 nm) was the most deleterious factor applied; in some samples only a few survivors were recovered from spores exposed in monolayers. Spores in multilayers survived better by several orders of magnitude. All other environmental parameters encountered by the “trip to Mars” or “stay on Mars” spores did little harm to the spores, which showed about 50% survival or more. The data demonstrate the high chance of survival of spores on a Mars mission, if protected against solar irradiation. These results will have implications for planetary protection considerations. Key Words: Planetary protection—Bacterial spores—Space experiment—Simulated Mars mission. Astrobiology 12, 445–456.
Spacecraft-associated spores and four non-spore-forming bacterial isolates were prepared in Atacama Desert soil suspensions and tested both in solution and in a desiccated state to elucidate the shadowing effect of soil particulates on bacterial survival under simulated Martian atmospheric and UV irradiation conditions. All non-spore-forming cells that were prepared in nutrient-depleted, 0.2-μm-filtered desert soil (DSE) microcosms and desiccated for 75 days on aluminum died, whereas cells prepared similarly in 60-μm-filtered desert soil (DS) microcosms survived such conditions. Among the bacterial cells tested, Microbacterium schleiferi and Arthrobacter sp. exhibited elevated resistance to 254-nm UV irradiation (low-pressure Hg lamp), and their survival indices were comparable to those of DS- and DSE-associated Bacillus pumilus spores. Desiccated DSE-associated spores survived exposure to full Martian UV irradiation (200 to 400 nm) for 5 min and were only slightly affected by Martian atmospheric conditions in the absence of UV irradiation. Although prolonged UV irradiation (5 min to 12 h) killed substantial portions of the spores in DSE microcosms (∼5- to 6-log reduction with Martian UV irradiation), dramatic survival of spores was apparent in DS-spore microcosms. The survival of soil-associated wild-type spores under Martian conditions could have repercussions for forward contamination of extraterrestrial environments, especially Mars.
Soil samples from Cape Canaveral were subjected to a simulated Martian environment and assayed periodically over 45 days to determine the effect of various environmental parameters on bacterial populations. The simulated environment was based on the most recent available data, prior to the Viking spacecraft, describing Martian conditions and consisted of a pressure of 7 millibars, an atmosphere of 99.9% CO2 and 0.1% O2, a freeze-thaw cycle of -65 degrees C for 16 h and 24 degrees C for 8 h, and variable moisture and nutrients. Reduced pressure had a significant effect, reducing growth under these conditions. Slight variations in gaseous composition of the simulated atmosphere had negligible effect on growth. The freeze-thaw cycle did not inhibit growth but did result in a slower rate of decline after growth had occurred. Dry samples exhibited no change during the 45-day experiment, indicating that the simulated Martian environment was not toxic to bacterial populations. Psychotrophic organisms responded more favorably to this environment than mesophiles, although both types exhibited increases of approximately 3 logs in 7 to 14 days when moisture and nutrients were available.
Spores of wild-type and mutant Bacillus subtilis strains lacking various structural components were exposed to simulated Martian atmospheric and UV irradiation conditions. Spore survival and mutagenesis were strongly dependent on the functionality of all of the structural components, with small acid-soluble spore proteins, coat layers, and dipicolinic acid as key protectants.
The dry-heat resistance characteristics of spores of psychrophilic organisms isolated from soil samples from the Viking spacecraft assembly areas at Cape Kennedy Space Flight Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla., were studied. Spore suspensions were produced, and dry-heat D values were determined for the microorganisms that demonstrated growth or survival under a simulated Martian environment. The dry-heat tests were carried out by using the planchet-boat-hot plate system at 110 and 125 degrees C with an ambient relative humidity of 50% at 22 degrees C. The spores evaluated had a relatively low resistance to dry heat. D(110 degrees C) values ranged from 7.5 to 122 min, whereas the D(123 degrees C) values ranged from less than 1.0 to 9.8 min.
Most planetary protection research has concentrated on characterizing viable bioloads on spacecraft surfaces, developing techniques for bioload reduction prior to launch, and studying the effects of simulated martian environments on microbial survival. Little research has examined the persistence of biogenic signature molecules on spacecraft materials under simulated martian surface conditions. This study examined how endogenous adenosine-5′-triphosphate (ATP) would persist on aluminum coupons under simulated martian conditions of 7.1 mbar, full-spectrum simulated martian radiation calibrated to 4 W m−2 of UV-C (200 to 280 nm), −10°C, and a Mars gas mix of CO2 (95.54%), N2 (2.7%), Ar (1.6%), O2 (0.13%), and H2O (0.03%). Cell or spore viabilities of Acinetobacter radioresistens, Bacillus pumilus, and B. subtilis were measured in minutes to hours, while high levels of endogenous ATP were recovered after exposures of up to 21 days. The dominant factor responsible for temporal reductions in viability and loss of ATP was the simulated Mars surface radiation; low pressure, low temperature, and the Mars gas composition exhibited only slight effects. The normal burst of endogenous ATP detected during spore germination in B. pumilus and B. subtilis was reduced by 1 or 2 orders of magnitude following, respectively, 8- or 30-min exposures to simulated martian conditions. The results support the conclusion that endogenous ATP will persist for time periods that are likely to extend beyond the nominal lengths of most surface missions on Mars, and planetary protection protocols prior to launch may require additional rigor to further reduce the presence and abundance of biosignature molecules on spacecraft surfaces.
Spore-forming microbes recovered from spacecraft surfaces and assembly facilities were exposed to simulated Martian UV irradiation. The effects of UVA (315 to 400 nm), UVA+B (280 to 400 nm), and the full UV spectrum (200 to 400 nm) on the survival of microorganisms were studied at UV intensities expected to strike the surfaces of Mars. Microbial species isolated from the surfaces of several spacecraft, including Mars Odyssey, X-2000 (avionics), and the International Space Station, and their assembly facilities were identified using 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Forty-three Bacillus spore lines were screened, and 19 isolates showed resistance to UVC irradiation (200 to 280 nm) after exposure to 1,000 J m−2 of UVC irradiation at 254 nm using a low-pressure mercury lamp. Spores of Bacillus species isolated from spacecraft-associated surfaces were more resistant than a standard dosimetric strain, Bacillus subtilis 168. In addition, the exposure time required for UVA+B irradiation to reduce the viable spore numbers by 90% was 35-fold longer than the exposure time required for the full UV spectrum to do this, confirming that UVC is the primary biocidal bandwidth. Among the Bacillus species tested, spores of a Bacillus pumilus strain showed the greatest resistance to all three UV bandwidths, as well as the total spectrum. The resistance to simulated Mars UV irradiation was strain specific; B. pumilus SAFR-032 exhibited greater resistance than all other strains tested. The isolation of organisms like B. pumilus SAFR-032 and the greater survival of this organism (sixfold) than of the standard dosimetric strains should be considered when the sanitation capabilities of UV irradiation are determined.
The martian surface environment exhibits extremes of salinity, temperature, desiccation, and radiation that would make it difficult for terrestrial microbes to survive. Recent evidence suggests that martian soils contain high concentrations of MgSO4 minerals. Through warming of the soils, meltwater derived from subterranean ice-rich regolith may exist for an extended period of time and thus allow the propagation of terrestrial microbes and create significant bioburden at the near surface of Mars. The current report demonstrates that halotolerant bacteria from the Great Salt Plains (GSP) of Oklahoma are capable of growing at high concentrations of MgSO4 in the form of 2 M solutions of epsomite. The epsotolerance of isolates in the GSP bacterial collection was determined, with 35% growing at 2 M MgSO4. There was a complex physiological response to mixtures of MgSO4 and NaCl coupled with other environmental stressors. Growth also was measured at 1 M concentrations of other magnesium and sulfate salts. The complex responses may be partially explained by the pattern of chaotropicity observed for high-salt solutions as measured by agar gelation temperature. Select isolates could grow at the high salt concentrations and low temperatures found on Mars. Survival during repetitive freeze-thaw or drying-rewetting cycles was used as other measures of potential success on the martian surface. Our results indicate that terrestrial microbes might survive under the high-salt, low-temperature, anaerobic conditions on Mars and present significant potential for forward contamination. Stringent planetary protection requirements are needed for future life-detection missions to Mars. Key Words: Analogue—Mars—Planetary protection—Salts—Life in extreme environments. Astrobiology 12, 98–106.
The Schaeffer-Fulton endospore stain was modified so that it would stain Bacillus subtilis endospores in soil smears. The modified stain differentiated among dormant spores, spores undergoing activation, and spores which had germinated but had not yet shown outgrowth. These differentiations were seen for spores in soil and for pure spore preparations in the laboratory. This stain was used to show reversible B. subtilis spore activation promoted by an Ensifer adhaerens-like indigenous bacterium in soil and by pure cultures of E. adhaerens added to spores in the laboratory. Under the specific conditions in the laboratory, spore germination did not proceed beyond the activation stage, and relatively little change occurred in the numbers of both E. adhaerens and B. subtilis. This was also true in soil, although some germination with destruction of spores and vegetative cells did occur if the soil had been nutritionally enriched by preincubation with incorporated ground alfalfa.
Recent spacecraft and lander missions to Mars have reinforced previous interpretations that Mars was a wet and warm planet in the geological past. The role of liquid water in shaping many of the surface features on Mars has long been recognized. Since the presence of liquid water is essential for survival of life, conditions on early Mars might have been more favourable for the emergence and evolution of life. Until a sample return mission to Mars, one of the ways of studying the past environmental conditions on Mars is through chemical and isotopic studies of Martian meteorites. Over 35 individual meteorite samples, believed to have originated on Mars, are now available for lab-based studies. Fe is a key element that is present in both primary and secondary minerals in the Martian meteorites. Fe-isotope ratios can be fractionated by low-temperature processes which includes biological activity. Experimental investigations of Fe reduction and oxidation by bacteria have produced large fractionation in Fe-isotope ratios. Hence, it is considered likely that if there is/were any form of life present on Mars then it might be possible to detect its signature by Fe-isotope studies of Martian meteorites. In the present study, we have analysed a number of Martian meteorites for their bulk-Fe-isotope composition. In addition, a set of terrestrial analogue material has also been analysed to compare the results and draw inferences. So far, our studies have not found any measurable Fe-isotopic fractionation in bulk Martian meteorites that can be ascribed to any low-temperature process operative on Mars.
Mars; Martian meteorites; SNC; terrestrial analogues; iron isotopes; life
Dried preparations with Streptococcus faecium, strain A21, and spores of Bacillus sphaericus, strain CIA, normally used for control of the microbiological efficiency of radiation sterilization plants and preparations with spores of Bacillus subtilis, normally used for control of sterilization by dry heat, formalin, and ethylene oxide, as well as similar preparations with Micrococcus radiodurans, strain R1, and spores of Bacillus globigii (B. subtilis, var. niger) were gamma irradiated with dose rates from 16 to 70 krad/h at temperatures from 60 to 100 C. At 80 C the radiation response of the spore preparations was the same as at room temperature, whereas the radiation resistance of the preparations with the two vegetative strains was reduced. At 100 C the radiation response of preparations with spores of B. subtilis was unaffected by the high temperature, whereas at 16 and and 25 krad/h the radiation resistance of the radiation-resistant sporeformer B. sphaericus, strain CIA, was reduced to the level of radiation resistance of preparations with spores of B. subtilis. It is concluded that combinations of heat and gamma irradiation at the temperatures and dose rates tested may have very few practical applications in sterilization of medical equipment.
Spore-forming bacteria are a special problem for the food industry as some of them are able to survive preservation processes. Bacillus spp. spores can remain in a dormant, stress resistant state for a long period of time. Vegetative cells are formed by germination of spores followed by a more extended outgrowth phase. Spore germination and outgrowth progression are often very heterogeneous and therefore, predictions of microbial stability of food products are exceedingly difficult. Mechanistic details of the cause of this heterogeneity are necessary. In order to examine spore heterogeneity we made a novel closed air-containing chamber for live imaging. This chamber was used to analyze Bacillus subtilis spore germination, outgrowth, as well as subsequent vegetative growth. Typically, we examined around 90 starting spores/cells for ≥4 hours per experiment. Image analysis with the purposely built program “SporeTracker” allows for automated data processing from germination to outgrowth and vegetative doubling. In order to check the efficiency of the chamber, growth and division of B. subtilis vegetative cells were monitored. The observed generation times of vegetative cells were comparable to those obtained in well-aerated shake flask cultures. The influence of a heat stress of 85°C for 10 min on germination, outgrowth, and subsequent vegetative growth was investigated in detail. Compared to control samples fewer spores germinated (41.1% less) and fewer grew out (48.4% less) after the treatment. The heat treatment had a significant influence on the average time to the start of germination (increased) and the distribution and average of the duration of germination itself (increased). However, the distribution and the mean outgrowth time and the generation time of vegetative cells, emerging from untreated and thermally injured spores, were similar.
During germination of spores of Bacillus species the degradation of the spore's pool of small, acid-soluble proteins (SASP) is initiated by a protease termed GPR, the product of the gpr gene. Bacillus megaterium and B. subtilis mutants with an inactivated gpr gene grew, sporulated, and triggered spore germination as did gpr+ strains. However, SASP degradation was very slow during germination of gpr mutant spores, and in rich media the time taken for spores to return to vegetative growth (defined as outgrowth) was much longer in gpr than in gpr+ spores. Not surprisingly, gpr spores had much lower rates of RNA and protein synthesis during outgrowth than did gpr+ spores, although both types of spores had similar levels of ATP. The rapid decrease in the number of negative supertwists in plasmid DNA seen during germination of gpr+ spores was also much slower in gpr spores. Additionally, UV irradiation of gpr B. subtilis spores early in germination generated significant amounts of spore photoproduct and only small amounts of thymine dimers (TT); in contrast UV irradiation of germinated gpr+ spores generated almost no spore photoproduct and three to four times more TT. Consequently, germinated gpr spores were more UV resistant than germinated gpr+ spores. Strikingly, the slow outgrowth phenotype of B. subtilis gpr spores was suppressed by the absence of major alpha/beta-type SASP. These data suggest that (i) alpha/beta-type SASP remain bound to much, although not all, of the chromosome in germinated gpr spores; (ii) the alpha/beta-type SASP bound to the chromosome in gpr spores alter this DNA's topology and UV photochemistry; and (iii) the presence of alpha/beta-type SASP on the chromosome is detrimental to normal spore outgrowth.
Pretreatment with ethidium bromide (5 μg/ml) followed by a water wash had no effect on unheated Bacillus subtilis spores, but the viability of these spores after heating was much lower than that of similarly heated spores exposed to water alone. The fate of water- or ethidium bromide-treated spores, unheated or heated, was followed by allowing them to germinate and outgrow in a minimal or a complex liquid medium. Spores exposed to ethidium bromide and then heated (85°C, 10 min) exhibited a developmental block during germination and outgrowth. Many of them were blocked at the stage when the bacterium emerged from the germinated spore. When 0.35 μg of ethidium bromide per ml was added to heated spores in the germination-growth medium, the outgrowth of heated spores was inhibited to the same extent as were pretreated spores. Ethidium bromide acted in the first hour of germination of heated spores since addition after this time was ineffective in inhibiting recovery events. Repair of heat-damaged spore DNA was detected during the first 2 h of germination. The addition of ethidium bromide (final concentration, 0.35 μg/ml) inhibited DNA repair during early outgrowth. Increased sensitivity of spores to heat after pretreatment with sublethal concentrations of ethidium bromide was due to the inhibition of the repair of heat-damaged DNA.
The isolation of viable extremely halophilic archaea from 250-million-year-old rock salt suggests the possibility of their long-term survival under desiccation. Since halite has been found on Mars and in meteorites, haloarchaeal survival of martian surface conditions is being explored. Halococcus dombrowskii H4 DSM 14522T was exposed to UV doses over a wavelength range of 200–400 nm to simulate martian UV flux. Cells embedded in a thin layer of laboratory-grown halite were found to accumulate preferentially within fluid inclusions. Survival was assessed by staining with the LIVE/DEAD kit dyes, determining colony-forming units, and using growth tests. Halite-embedded cells showed no loss of viability after exposure to about 21 kJ/m2, and they resumed growth in liquid medium with lag phases of 12 days or more after exposure up to 148 kJ/m2. The estimated D37 (dose of 37 % survival) for Hcc. dombrowskii was ≥ 400 kJ/m2. However, exposure of cells to UV flux while in liquid culture reduced D37 by 2 orders of magnitude (to about 1 kJ/m2); similar results were obtained with Halobacterium salinarum NRC-1 and Haloarcula japonica. The absorption of incoming light of shorter wavelength by color centers resulting from defects in the halite crystal structure likely contributed to these results. Under natural conditions, haloarchaeal cells become embedded in salt upon evaporation; therefore, dispersal of potential microscopic life within small crystals, perhaps in dust, on the surface of Mars could resist damage by UV radiation.
Halococcus dombrowskii; Simulated martian UV radiation; LIVE/DEAD staining; Halite fluid inclusions; UV transmittance and reflectance; Desiccation
Martian soil is thought to be enriched with strong oxidants such as peroxides and/or iron in high oxidation states that might destroy biological materials. There is also a high flux of ultraviolet radiation at the surface of Mars. Thus, Mars may be inhospitable to life as we know it on Earth. We examined the hypothesis that if the soil of Mars contains ferrates [Fe(VI)], the strongest of the proposed oxidizing species, and also is exposed to high fluxes of UV radiation, it will be self-sterilizing.
Under ambient conditions (25°C, oxygen and water present) K2FeO4 mixed into sand mineralized some reactive organic molecules to CO2, while less reactive compounds were not degraded. Dried endospores of Bacillus subtilis incubated in a Mars surrogate soil comprised of dry silica sand containing 20% by weight K2FeO4 and under conditions similar to those now on Mars (extreme desiccation, cold, and a CO2-dominated atmosphere) were resistant to killing by the ferrate-enriched sand. Similar results were observed with permanganate. Spores in oxidant-enriched sand exposed to high fluxes of UV light were protected from the sporocidal activity of the radiation below about 5 mm depths.
Based on our data and previously published descriptions of ancient but dormant life forms on Earth, we suggest that if entities resembling bacterial endospores were produced at some point by life forms on Mars, they might still be present and viable, given appropriate germination conditions. Endospores delivered to Mars on spacecraft would possibly survive and potentially compromise life detection experiments.
One of the goals of the present Martian exploration is to search for evidence of extinct (or even extant) life. This could be redefined as a search for carbon. The carbon cycle (or, more properly, cycles) on Earth is a complex interaction among three reservoirs: the atmosphere; the hydrosphere; and the lithosphere. Superimposed on this is the biosphere, and its presence influences the fixing and release of carbon in these reservoirs over different time-scales. The overall carbon balance is kept at equilibrium on the surface by a combination of tectonic processes (which bury carbon), volcanism (which releases it) and biology (which mediates it). In contrast to Earth, Mars presently has no active tectonic system; neither does it possess a significant biosphere. However, these observations might not necessarily have held in the past. By looking at how Earth's carbon cycles have changed with time, as both the Earth's tectonic structure and a more sophisticated biology have evolved, and also by constructing a carbon cycle for Mars based on the carbon chemistry of Martian meteorites, we investigate whether or not there is evidence for a Martian biosphere.
Earth; Mars; carbon; cycle; life
Triboelectric charging is common in desert sandstorms and dust devils on Earth; however, it remains poorly understood. Here we show a charging mechanism of sands with the adsorbed water on micro-porous surface in wind-blown sand based on the fact that water content is universal but usually a minor component in most particle systems. The triboelectric charging could be resulted due to the different mobility of H+/OH− between the contacting sands with a temperature difference. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and discrete element method (DEM) were used to demonstrate the dynamics of the sand charging. The numerically simulated charge-to-mass ratios of sands and electric field strength established in wind tunnel agreed well with the experimental data. The charging mechanism could provide an explanation for the charging process of all identical granular systems with water content, including Martian dust devils, wind-blown snow, even powder electrification in industrial processes.
Thirteen thermosensitive mutants of Bacillus subtilis defective in the outgrowth phase of spore germination were isolated. The spores of the mutants grow into vegetative cells at 35 C but not at 47 C, whereas the vegetative cells grow equally well at both temperatures. At 47 C all the mutant spores are able to initiate germination, but the process stops at an early phase of outgrowth in one strain and in a late phase in the other 12 strains. The spore of the latter gives rise to a swollen cell unable to divide. In all mutants, the normal phenotype is restored when the spores are grown in the presence of 20% sucrose or 2% NaCl. The synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid and proteins does not seem to be altered in the mutants giving swollen cells. The mutants were grouped into three distinct genetic classes by transformation.
Bacillus subtilis is considered a soil organism for which endospore formation provides a means to ensure long-term survival in the environment. We have addressed here the question of what happens to a spore when ingested. Spores displaying on their surface a heterologous antigen, tetanus toxin fragment C (TTFC), were shown to generate anti-TTFC responses not to the antigen contained in the primary oral inoculum but to those displayed on spores that had germinated and then resporulated. We then used reverse transcription-PCR to determine expression of vegetative genes and sporulation-specific genes in the mouse gut following oral dosing with spores. Significant levels of germination and sporulation were documented. Using natural isolates of B. subtilis that could form biofilms, we showed that these strains could persist in the mouse gut for significantly longer than the laboratory strain. Moreover, these isolates could grow and sporulate anaerobically and exhibited a novel phenomenon of being able to form spores in almost half the time required for the laboratory isolate. This suggests that spores are not transient passengers of the gastrointestinal tract but have adapted to carry out their entire life cycle within this environment. This is the first report showing an intestinal life cycle of B. subtilis and suggests that other Bacillus species could also be members of the gut microflora.
We describe the parameters that drive the design and modeling of the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) Ground Temperature Sensor (GTS), an instrument aboard NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory, and report preliminary test results. REMS GTS is a lightweight, low-power, and low cost pyrometer for measuring the Martian surface kinematic temperature. The sensor’s main feature is its innovative design, based on a simple mechanical structure with no moving parts. It includes an in-flight calibration system that permits sensor recalibration when sensor sensitivity has been degraded by deposition of dust over the optics. This paper provides the first results of a GTS engineering model working in a Martian-like, extreme environment.
IR ground temperature sensor; sensor thermal model; spacecraft instrumentation; in-flight calibration
Populations of Bacillus subtilis spores in which 90 to 99.9% of the spores had been killed by moist heat gave only two fractions on equilibrium density gradient centrifugation: a fraction comprised of less dense spores that had lost their dipicolinic acid (DPA), undergone significant protein denaturation, and were all dead and a fraction with the same higher density as that of unheated spores. The latter fraction from heat-killed spore populations retained all of its DPA, but ≥98% of the spores could be dead. The dead spores that retained DPA germinated relatively normally with nutrient and nonnutrient germinants, but the outgrowth of these germinated spores was significantly compromised, perhaps because they had suffered damage to some proteins such that metabolic activity during outgrowth was greatly decreased. These results indicate that DPA release takes place well after spore killing by moist heat and that DPA release during moist-heat treatment is an all-or-nothing phenomenon; these findings also suggest that damage to one or more key spore proteins causes spore killing by moist heat.
While anthrax is typically associated with bioterrorism, in many parts of the world the anthrax bacillus (Bacillus anthracis) is endemic in soils, where it causes sporadic disease in livestock. These soils are typically rich in organic matter and calcium that promote survival of resilient B. anthracis spores. Outbreaks of anthrax tend to occur in warm weather following rains that are believed to concentrate spores in low-lying areas where runoff collects. It has been concluded that elevated spore concentrations are not the result of vegetative growth as B. anthracis competes poorly against indigenous bacteria. Here, we test an alternative hypothesis in which amoebas, common in moist soils and pools of standing water, serve as amplifiers of B. anthracis spores by enabling germination and intracellular multiplication. Under simulated environmental conditions, we show that B. anthracis germinates and multiplies within Acanthamoeba castellanii. The growth kinetics of a fully virulent B. anthracis Ames strain (containing both the pX01 and pX02 virulence plasmids) and vaccine strain Sterne (containing only pX01) inoculated as spores in coculture with A. castellanii showed a nearly 50-fold increase in spore numbers after 72 h. In contrast, the plasmidless strain 9131 showed little growth, demonstrating that plasmid pX01 is essential for growth within A. castellanii. Electron and time-lapse fluorescence microscopy revealed that spores germinate within amoebal phagosomes, vegetative bacilli undergo multiplication, and, following demise of the amoebas, bacilli sporulate in the extracellular milieu. This analysis supports our hypothesis that amoebas contribute to the persistence and amplification of B. anthracis in natural environments.
Considerably fewer spores of Bacillus stearothermophilus, B. megaterium, and Clostridium sporogenes were recovered than were spores of B. subtilis var. niger and Aspergillus niger after 4 to 5 days at 53 and 60 C in ultrahigh vacuum. There were no significant differences in the recoveries of these five organisms at 25 C and atmospheric pressure, and after exposure to 25 and -190 C in vacuum. At 60 C, a far greater decrease in viability was demonstrated for B. stearothermophilus, B. megaterium, and C. sporogenes in ultrahigh vacuum than at atmospheric pressure. Viable B. subtilis var. niger spores were not detected in an initial 107 spores after retention at 90 C and ultrahigh vacuum, and 104 spores were viable after 5 days at 90 C and atmospheric pressure from an initial 106 spores. Molds and actinomycetes in soil were particularly resistant up to 69 C in vacuum. Actinomycetes were the only soil organisms recovered so far at 120 C.