Monday, October 15, 2007

Bacterial Spores

When certain bacterium(Bacillus,Clostridium) are exposed to environmental changes, or a lack of food source,often times they will enter a state of change in order to protect themselves from damage. Once a cell notices these changes it begins to make a copy of its chromosome and replicate. In a sense the bacteria will "mummify" itself into what are called spores or endospores. These spores are incredibly difficult to destroy and are usually not affected by changes in heat, pressure, pH, lack of nutrient or even radiation! This has a lot to do with how the spore is formed, containing very hard multi layered coats for protection, thick layers of peptidoglycan and the ability to be dormant for long periods. It is possible that some bacteria could have even been revived after lying dormant for millions of years! This is truly an incredible survival technique, maybe researchers could use the same technologies to keep people with disease in a dormant state until a cure is found?
However, not all bacteria have the ability to spore but most that live in soil do and can be very harmful when contracted. These endospores can cause many serious diseases in humans. Anaerobic sporing bacteria can cause such diseases as botulism (Clostridium botulinum), gas gangrene (Clostridium perfringens), tetanus (Clostridium tetani), and acute food poisoning (Clostridium perfringens). Aerobic bacteria such as the well known anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) can also cause significant health issues.
One of widely unknown features of the spore is how it actually returns to a living bacterial state. So far researchers believe that the spore can only awaken from its dormancy once the conditions surrounding it are returned to the levels that were present when the bacterium was thriving. In the past it has been widely unknown how the spore actually breaks out of its dormant state but a new study by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists have proven many great insights. They have studied Bacillus atrophaeus spores and revealed that when the spore is awakening the spore coat will actually breakdown and a new bacterium will emerge!! Scary! almost a little too much like the Alien movies!
Although hard to fathom, hopefully these new studies will allow us to more clearly understand bacterial spores in order to better treat infections and to aide in protecting ourselves from future disease.