Skip to main content
Biology LibreTexts

7.1.1.1: Endospores

  • Page ID
    50327
    • Boundless
    • Boundless
    \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Learning Objectives

    • Describe the function and advantage of endospore formation, as well as the methods for viewing it.

    An endospore is a dormant, tough, and non-reproductive structure produced by certain bacteria from the Firmicute phylum. Endospore formation is usually triggered by lack of nutrients, and usually occurs in Gram-positive bacteria. In endospore formation, the bacterium divides within its cell wall. One side then engulfs the other. Endospores enable bacteria to lie dormant for extended periods, even centuries. When the environment becomes more favorable, the endospore can reactivate itself to the vegetative state. Examples of bacteria that can form endospores include Bacillus and Clostridium. The endospore consists of the bacterium’s DNA and part of its cytoplasm, surrounded by a very tough outer coating. Endospores can survive without nutrients. They are resistant to ultraviolet radiation, desiccation, high temperature, extreme freezing and chemical disinfectants. They are commonly found in soil and water, where they may survive for long periods of time. Bacteria produce a single endospore internally.

    image
    Figure: Endospore morphology: Variations in endospore morphology: (1, 4) central endospore; (2, 3, 5) terminal endospore; (6) lateral endospore.

    There are variations in endospore morphology. Examples of bacteria having terminal endospores include Clostridium tetani, the pathogen that causes the disease tetanus. Bacteria having a centrally placed endospore include Bacillus cereus, and those having a subterminal endospore include Bacillus subtilis. Sometimes the endospore can be so large that the cell can be distended around the endospore. This is typical of Clostridium tetani.

    image
    Figure: Bacillus subtilis stained with the Schaeffer-Fulton stain.: A stained preparation of Bacillus subtilis showing endospores as green and the vegetative cell as red.

    While resistant to extreme heat and radiation, endospores can be destroyed by burning or by autoclaving. Endospores are able to survive boiling at 100°C for hours, although the longer the number of hours the fewer that will survive. An indirect way to destroy them is to place them in an environment that reactivates them to their vegetative state. They will germinate within a day or two with the right environmental conditions, and then the vegetative cells can be straightforwardly destroyed. This indirect method is called Tyndallization. It was the usual method for a while in the late 19th century before the advent of inexpensive autoclaves. Prolonged exposure to ionising radiation, such as x-rays and gamma rays, will also kill most endospores.

    Reactivation of the endospore occurs when conditions are more favourable and involves activation, germination, and outgrowth. Germination involves the dormant endospore starting metabolic activity and thus breaking hibernation. It is commonly characterised by rupture or absorption of the spore coat, swelling of the endospore, an increase in metabolic activity, and loss of resistance to environmental stress.

    Endospores of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis were used in the 2001 anthrax attacks. The powder found in contaminated postal letters was composed of extracellular anthrax endospores. Inhalation, ingestion or skin contamination of these endospores led to a number of deaths.

     

    Key Points

    • Examples of bacteria that can form endospores include Bacillus and Clostridium.
    • Endospores can survive without nutrients. They are resistant to ultraviolet radiation, desiccation, high temperature, extreme freezing and chemical disinfectants.
    • While resistant to extreme heat and radiation, endospores can be destroyed by burning or by autoclaving.

    Key Terms

    • endospore: A dormant, tough, and non-reproductive structure produced by certain bacteria from the Firmicute phylum.

    LICENSES AND ATTRIBUTIONS

    CC LICENSED CONTENT, SPECIFIC ATTRIBUTION

    • Cell Biology/Cell types/Bacteria. Provided by: Wikibooks. Located at: en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cell_Bi...types/Bacteria. License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
    • Endospores. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Endospores. License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
    • endospore. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/endospore. License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
    • Bacillus subtilis Spore. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ba...ilis_Spore.jpg. License: CC BY-SA: Attribution-ShareAlike
    • Bakterien%20Sporen. Provided by: Wikipedia. Located at: en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ba...ien_Sporen.png. License: Public Domain: No Known Copyright

    7.1.1.1: Endospores is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Boundless.