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.
Survival of Bacillus subtilis var. globigii in a simulated Martian environment was demonstrated. Previous contact with the simulated Martian soil or atmosphere reduced germination or outgrowth of unheated spores, or both. Inoculation into simulated Martian soil and then flushing with a simulated Martian atmosphere were lethal to both vegetative cells and spores. After one diurnal temperature cycle (26 to -60 C), the majority of of cells present were spores. No further effect of the diurnal cycle on survival was noted in any of the experimental samples.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Methanogenesis is traditionally thought to occur only in highly reduced, anoxic environments. Wetland and rice field soils are well known sources for atmospheric methane, while aerated soils are considered sinks. Although methanogens have been detected in low numbers in some aerated, and even in desert soils, it remains unclear whether they are active under natural oxic conditions, such as in biological soil crusts (BSCs) of arid regions. To answer this question we carried out a factorial experiment using microcosms under simulated natural conditions. The BSC on top of an arid soil was incubated under moist conditions in all possible combinations of flooding and drainage, light and dark, air and nitrogen headspace. In the light, oxygen was produced by photosynthesis. Methane production was detected in all microcosms, but rates were much lower when oxygen was present. In addition, the δ13C of the methane differed between the oxic/oxygenic and anoxic microcosms. While under anoxic conditions methane was mainly produced from acetate, it was almost entirely produced from H2/CO2 under oxic/oxygenic conditions. Only two genera of methanogens were identified in the BSC-Methanosarcina and Methanocella; their abundance and activity in transcribing the mcrA gene (coding for methyl-CoM reductase) was higher under anoxic than oxic/oxygenic conditions, respectively. Both methanogens also actively transcribed the oxygen detoxifying gene catalase. Since methanotrophs were not detectable in the BSC, all the methane produced was released into the atmosphere. Our findings point to a formerly unknown participation of desert soils in the global methane cycle.
Bacillus spores are notoriously resistant to unfavorable conditions such as UV radiation, γ-radiation, H2O2, desiccation, chemical disinfection, or starvation. Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 survives standard decontamination procedures of the Jet Propulsion Lab spacecraft assembly facility, and both spores and vegetative cells of this strain exhibit elevated resistance to UV radiation and H2O2 compared to other Bacillus species.
The genome of B. pumilus SAFR-032 was sequenced and annotated. Lists of genes relevant to DNA repair and the oxidative stress response were generated and compared to B. subtilis and B. licheniformis. Differences in conservation of genes, gene order, and protein sequences are highlighted because they potentially explain the extreme resistance phenotype of B. pumilus. The B. pumilus genome includes genes not found in B. subtilis or B. licheniformis and conserved genes with sequence divergence, but paradoxically lacks several genes that function in UV or H2O2 resistance in other Bacillus species.
This study identifies several candidate genes for further research into UV and H2O2 resistance. These findings will help explain the resistance of B. pumilus and are applicable to understanding sterilization survival strategies of microbes.
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.
Viable methanogens have been detected in dry, aerobic environments such as dry reservoir sediment, dry rice paddies and aerobic desert soils, which suggests that methanogens have mechanisms for long-term survival in a desiccated state. In this study, we quantified the survival rates of the methanogenic archaeon Methanosarcina barkeri after desiccation under conditions equivalent to the driest environments on Earth and subsequent exposure to different stress factors. There was no significant loss of viability after desiccation for 28 days for cells grown with either hydrogen or the methylotrophic substrates, but recovery was affected by growth phase, with cells desiccated during the stationary phase of growth having a higher rate of recovery after desiccation. Synthesis of methanosarcinal extracellular polysaccharide (EPS) significantly increased the viability of desiccated cells under both anaerobic and aerobic conditions compared with that of non-EPS-synthesizing cells. Desiccated M. barkeri exposed to air at room temperature did not lose significant viability after 28 days, and exposure of M. barkeri to air after desiccation appeared to improve the recovery of viable cells compared with that of desiccated cells that were never exposed to air. Desiccated M. barkeri was more resistant to higher temperatures, and although resistance to oxidative conditions such as ozone and ionizing radiation was not as robust as in other desiccation-resistant microorganisms, the protection mechanisms are likely adequate to maintain cell viability during periodic exposure events. The results of this study demonstrate that after desiccation M. barkeri has the innate capability to survive extended periods of exposure to air and lethal temperatures.
Spore formation is a survival mechanism of microorganisms when facing unfavorable environmental conditions resulting in “dormant” states. We investigated the occurrence of bacterial endospores in soils from various locations including grasslands (pasture, meadow), allotment gardens, and forests, as well as fluvial sediments. Bacterial spores are characterized by their high content of dipicolinic acid (DPA). In the presence of terbium, DPA forms a complex showing a distinctive photoluminescence spectrum. DPA was released from soil by microwaving or autoclaving. The addition of aluminium chloride reduced signal quenching by interfering compounds such as phosphate. The highest spore content (up to 109 spores per gram of dry soil) was found in grassland soils. Spore content is related to soil type, to soil depth, and to soil carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. Our study might provide a basis for the detection of “hot spots” of bacterial spores in soil.
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
Escherichia coli and Serratia liquefaciens, two bacterial spacecraft contaminants known to replicate under low atmospheric pressures of 2.5 kPa, were tested for growth and survival under simulated Mars conditions. Environmental stresses of high salinity, low temperature, and low pressure were screened alone and in combination for effects on bacterial survival and replication, and then cells were tested in Mars analog soils under simulated Mars conditions. Survival and replication of E. coli and S. liquefaciens cells in liquid medium were evaluated for 7 days under low temperatures (5, 10, 20, or 30°C) with increasing concentrations (0, 5, 10, or 20%) of three salts (MgCl2, MgSO4, NaCl) reported to be present on the surface of Mars. Moderate to high growth rates were observed for E. coli and S. liquefaciens at 30 or 20°C and in solutions with 0 or 5% salts. In contrast, cell densities of both species generally did not increase above initial inoculum levels under the highest salt concentrations (10 and 20%) and the four temperatures tested, with the exception that moderately higher cell densities were observed for both species at 10% MgSO4 maintained at 20 or 30°C. Growth rates of E. coli and S. liquefaciens in low salt concentrations were robust under all pressures (2.5, 10, or 101.3 kPa), exhibiting a general increase of up to 2.5 orders of magnitude above the initial inoculum levels of the assays. Vegetative E. coli cells were maintained in a Mars analog soil for 7 days under simulated Mars conditions that included temperatures between 20 and −50°C for a day/night diurnal period, UVC irradiation (200 to 280 nm) at 3.6 W m−2 for daytime operations (8 h), pressures held at a constant 0.71 kPa, and a gas composition that included the top five gases found in the martian atmosphere. Cell densities of E. coli failed to increase under simulated Mars conditions, and survival was reduced 1 to 2 orders of magnitude by the interactive effects of desiccation, UV irradiation, high salinity, and low pressure (in decreasing order of importance). Results suggest that E. coli may be able to survive, but not grow, in surficial soils on Mars.
Soil protozoa are characterized by their ability to produce cysts, which allows them to survive unfavorable conditions (e.g., desiccation) for extended periods. Under favorable conditions, they may rapidly excyst and begin feeding, but even under optimal conditions, a large proportion of the population may be encysted. The factors governing the dynamics of active and encysted cells in the soil are not well understood. Our objective was to determine the dynamics of active and encysted populations of ciliates during the decomposition of freshly added organic material. We monitored, in soil microcosms, the active and total populations of ciliates, their potential prey (bacteria and small protozoa), their potential competitors (amoebae, flagellates, and nematodes), and their potential predators (nematodes). We sampled with short time intervals (2 to 6 days) and generated a data set, suitable for mathematical modeling. Following the addition of fresh organic material, bacterial numbers increased more than 1,400-fold. There was a temporary increase in the number of active ciliates, followed by a rapid decline, although the size of the bacterial prey populations remained high. During this initial burst of ciliate growth, the population of cystic ciliates increased 100-fold. We suggest that internal population regulation is the major factor governing ciliate encystment and that the rate of encystment depends on ciliate density. This model provides a quantitative explanation of ciliatostasis and can explain why protozoan growth in soil is less than that in aquatic systems. Internally governed encystment may be an essential adaptation to an unpredictable environment in which individual protozoa cannot predict when the soil will dry out and will survive desiccation only if they have encysted in time.
Bacillus thuringiensis spores and parasporal crystals were incubated in natural soil, both in the laboratory and in nature. During the first 2 weeks, the spore count decreased by approximately 1 log. Thereafter, the number of spore CFU remained constant for at least 8 months. B. thuringiensis did not lose its ability to make the parasporal crystals during its residence in soil. Spore survival was similar for a commercial spore-crystal preparation (the insecticide) and for laboratory-grown spores. In contrast to these results, spores that were produced in situ in soil through multiplication of added vegetative cells survived for only a short time. For spore additions to soil, variations in soil pH had little effect on survival for those spores that survived the first 2 weeks of incubation. Also without effect were various pretreatments of the spores before incubation in soil or nutritional amendment or desiccation of the soil. Remoistening of a desiccated soil, however, caused a decrease in spore numbers. Spores incubated in soil in the field did not show this, but the degree of soil desiccation in nature probably never reached that for the laboratory samples. The good survival of B. thuringiensis spores after the first 2 weeks in soil seemed to be a result of their inability to germinate in soil. We found no evidence for the hypothesis that rapid germination ability for spores in soil conferred a survival advantage.
Bacillus species (Bacillus cereus, Bacillus clausii, Bacillus pumilus) carried in five commercial probiotic products consisting of bacterial spores were characterized for potential attributes (colonization, immunostimulation, and antimicrobial activity) that could account for their claimed probiotic properties. Three B. cereus strains were shown to persist in the mouse gastrointestinal tract for up to 18 days postadministration, demonstrating that these organisms have some ability to colonize. Spores of one B. cereus strain were extremely sensitive to simulated gastric conditions and simulated intestinal fluids. Spores of all strains were immunogenic when they were given orally to mice, but the B. pumilus strain was found to generate particularly high anti-spore immunoglobulin G titers. Spores of B. pumilus and of a laboratory strain of B. subtilis were found to induce the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 in a cultured macrophage cell line, and in vivo, spores of B. pumilus and B. subtilis induced the proinflammatory cytokine tumor necrosis factor alpha and the Th1 cytokine gamma interferon. The B. pumilus strain and one B. cereus strain (B. cereus var. vietnami) were found to produce a bacteriocin-like activity against other Bacillus species. The results that provided evidence of colonization, immunostimulation, and antimicrobial activity support the hypothesis that the organisms have a potential probiotic effect. However, the three B. cereus strains were also found to produce the Hbl and Nhe enterotoxins, which makes them unsafe for human use.
The Chilean sclerophyllous matorral is a Mediterranean semiarid ecosystem affected by erosion, with low soil fertility, and limited by nitrogen. However, limitation of resources is even more severe for desert soils such as from the Atacama Desert, one of the most extreme arid deserts on Earth. Topsoil organic matter, nitrogen and moisture content were significantly higher in the semiarid soil compared to the desert soil. Although the most significant loss of biologically preferred nitrogen from terrestrial ecosystems occurs via denitrification, virtually nothing is known on the activity and composition of denitrifier communities thriving in arid soils. In this study we explored denitrifier communities from two soils with profoundly distinct edaphic factors. While denitrification activity in the desert soil was below detection limit, the semiarid soil sustained denitrification activity. To elucidate the genetic potential of the soils to sustain denitrification processes we performed community analysis of denitrifiers based on nitrite reductase (nirK and nirS) genes as functional marker genes for this physiological group. Presence of nirK-type denitrifiers in both soils was demonstrated but failure to amplify nirS from the desert soil suggests very low abundance of nirS-type denitrifiers shedding light on the lack of denitrification activity. Phylogenetic analysis showed a very low diversity of nirK with only three distinct genotypes in the desert soil which conditions presumably exert a high selection pressure. While nirK diversity was also limited to only few, albeit distinct genotypes, the semiarid matorral soil showed a surprisingly broad genetic variability of the nirS gene. The Chilean matorral is a shrub land plant community which form vegetational patches stabilizing the soil and increasing its nitrogen and carbon content. These islands of fertility may sustain the development and activity of the overall microbial community and of denitrifiers in particular.
denitrifiers; nirK and nirS; semiarid soil; desert soil; Chile
Rode, L. J. (The University of Texas, Austin), and J. W. Foster. Influence of exchangeable ions on germinability of bacterial spores. J. Bacteriol. 91:1582–1588. 1966.—Native spores of Bacillus megaterium Texas, and H-spores produced by titration of native spores to pH 4 with mineral acid, did not germinate in a solution of alanine and inosine unless a strong electrolyte was present. Ca-spores prepared from either H-spores or native spores did germinate efficiently in the same solution without a strong electrolyte. Of several other bivalent cations tested, only strontium and barium could substitute for calcium in conditioning spores for subsequent germination in the absence of an electrolyte. Variable responses were obtained with different metal ion forms of 62 unidentified soil isolates and several stock species of Bacillus. Although the pattern of response was not uniform in all organisms, ions played a crucial role in the germinability of the great majority of strains tested.
Evaluating the safety and efficacy of a recombinant bacterium prior to its release into the terrestrial environment requires that risk assessment data be collected in the laboratory. Much of this information is obtained with the use of microcosms. The design of the microcosm significantly affects the ability of the recombinant microorganism to survive in soil and, thus, complicates the risk assessment process. To standardize microcosms for future use, we evaluated the survival of Pseudomonas aureofaciens 3732 RN-L11 (lacZY Rif(supr) Nal(supr)) in intact soil cores (5.0 by 15 cm; polyvinyl chloride core) and disturbed soil microcosms (50 g of fresh, sieved soil). Survival data were compared with those obtained during a field release. The intact soil core microcosm was shown to closely simulate results obtained in the field. The intact soil core microcosm closely predicts survival in bulk soil and in the rhizosphere of wheat. Data obtained with the microcosm were also similar when evaluated in separate studies in two different years. In 1993, P. aureofaciens survived for approximately 63 days in bulk soil and 96 days in the rhizosphere. The disturbed soil microcosm exhibited a much more rapid decline in population size (34 days to zero) than the intact core microcosm. We speculate that drying and sieving of soil for the disturbed soil microcosm affected the ability of the soil to support the survival of P. aureofaciens. These results demonstrate that a small, inexpensive, and simple intact soil core microcosm may be appropriate for risk assessment.
A microscopy-based endospore viability assay (micro-EVA) capable of enumerating germinable Clostridium endospores (GCEs) in less than 30 min has been validated and employed to determine GCE concentrations in Greenland ices and Atacama Desert soils. Inoculation onto agarose doped with Tb3+ and d-alanine triggers Clostridium spore germination and the concomitant release of ∼108 molecules of dipicolinic acid (DPA) per endospore, which, under pulsed UV excitation, enables enumeration of resultant green Tb3+-DPA luminescent spots as GCEs with time-gated luminescence microscopy. The intensity time courses of the luminescent spots were characteristic of stage I Clostridium spore germination dynamics. Micro-EVA was validated against traditional CFU cultivation from 0 to 1,000 total endospores/ml (i.e., phase-bright bodies/ml), yielding 56.4% ± 1.5% GCEs and 43.0% ± 1.0% CFU. We also show that d-alanine serves as a Clostridium-specific germinant (three species tested) that inhibits Bacillus germination of spores (five species tested) in that endospore concentration regime. Finally, GCE concentrations in Greenland ice cores and Atacama Desert soils were determined with micro-EVA, yielding 1 to 2 GCEs/ml of Greenland ice (versus <1 CFU/ml after 6 months of incubation) and 66 to 157 GCEs/g of Atacama Desert soil (versus 40 CFU/g soil).
The activity of a vapor-phase disinfectant is usually expressed in terms of the atmospheric relative humidity (RH). This study shows that, in β-propiolactone (BPL) vapor disinfection, the important factor is really the moisture content and location of water in the cell, and not necessarily the atmospheric RH. Previous studies revealed that only about 50% of the bacterial spores equilibrated to 45% RH were killed when exposed to the same RH to BPL vapor. On the other hand, all the spores equilibrated to and then exposed at 75% RH to BPL were readily killed. The present study shows that spores equilibrated to 98% RH are readily killed by BPL at 45% RH, but only 99% of the spores equilibrated to 75% RH are killed by BPL at 45% RH. Also, in order to be killed, desiccated spores must be exposed to BPL at higher humidities than would be required if the spores had not been previously desiccated.
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.
Environmental Burkholderia pseudomallei isolated from sandy soil at Castle Hill, Townsville, in the dry tropic region of Queensland, Australia, was inoculated into sterile-soil laboratory microcosms subjected to variable soil moisture. Survival and sublethal injury of the B. pseudomallei strain were monitored by recovery using culture-based methods. Soil extraction buffer yielded higher recoveries as an extraction agent than sterile distilled water. B. pseudomallei was not recoverable when inoculated into desiccated soil but remained recoverable from moist soil subjected to 91 days' desiccation and showed a growth response to increased soil moisture over at least 113 days. Results indicate that endemic dry tropic soil may act as a reservoir during the dry season, with an increase in cell number and potential for mobilization from soil into water in the wet season.
Chemical purity of RNA samples is important for high-precision studies of RNA folding and catalytic behavior, but photodamage accrued during ultraviolet (UV) shadowing steps of sample preparation can reduce this purity. Here, we report the quantitation of UV-induced damage by using reverse transcription and single-nucleotide-resolution capillary electrophoresis. We found photolesions in a dozen natural and artificial RNAs; across multiple sequence contexts, dominantly at but not limited to pyrimidine doublets; and from multiple lamps recommended for UV shadowing. Irradiation time-courses revealed detectable damage within a few seconds of exposure for 254 nm lamps held at a distance of 5 to 10 cm from 0.5-mm thickness gels. Under these conditions, 200-nucleotide RNAs subjected to 20 seconds of UV shadowing incurred damage to 16-27% of molecules; and, due to a ‘skin effect’, the molecule-by-molecule distribution of lesions gave 4-fold higher variance than a Poisson distribution. Thicker gels, longer wavelength lamps, and shorter exposure times reduced but did not eliminate damage. These results suggest that RNA biophysical studies should report precautions taken to avoid artifactual heterogeneity from UV shadowing.