Bacterial Spores ( Endospore )

Bacterial Spores (endospore)

Endospores form within the Cell

  • Endospore is dormant stage of some bacterium that allows it to survive unfavorable conditions that would normally be lethal such as extreme drought or heat

  • Endospores are resistant against;

  • Drought

  • Low nutrient conditions

  • Radiation

  • High temperatures

  • Various chemical disinfectants


The spore is a dehydrated, multishelled structure that protects and allows the bacteria to exist in “suspended animation”

It contains a complete copy of the chromosome, the bare minimum concentrations of essential proteins and ribosomes, and a high concentration of calcium bound to dipicolinic acid.

The Vegetative Cell Gives Rise to One Spore

Endospore Function

Endospores are ultimately protection for the bacterial genome

Spores form within the cell and contain a full copy of the bacterial genome

Endospores are not a form of reproduction, because only one new cell germinates from each spore

Spores can be variable in size and location within the cell

Sporulation or Sporogenesis

Process of endospore formation within a vegetative (parent) cell

Germination = return of an endospore to its vegetative state


The sporulation process begins when nutritional conditions become unfavorable, depletion of the nitrogen or carbon source (or both) being the most significant factor.

Sporulation occurs massively in cultures that have terminated exponential growth as a result of such depletion.

Sporulation involves the production of many new structures, enzymes, and metabolites along with the disappearance of many vegetative cell components.

These changes represent a true process of differentiation. A set of genes whose products determine the formation and final composition of the spore are activated, while another subset of genes involved in vegetative cell function are inactivated.

These changes involve alterations in the transcriptional specifity of RNA polymerase, which is determined by the association of the polymerase core protein with one or another promoter-specific protein called a sigma factor. Different sigma factors are produced during vegetative growth and sporulation.

Morphologically, sporulation begins with the isolation of a terminal nucleus by the inward growth of the cell membrane.

The growth process involves an infolding of the membrane so as to produce a double membrane structure whose facing surfaces correspond to the cell wall-synthesizing surface of the cell envelope. The growing points move progressively toward the pole of the cell so as to engulf the developing spore.

The two spore membranes now engage in the activity synthesis of special layer that will form the cell envelope:

the spore wall and cortex, lying between the facing membranes, and the coat and exosporium lying outside the facing membrane.

In the newly isolated cytoplasm, or core, many vegetative cell enzymes are degraded and are replaced by a set of unique spore constituents.

Differences between Endospores and Vegetative Cells

Not all bacterial species can form spores

A few genera of bacteria produce endospore such as Clostridium (gangrene) and Bacillus (anthrax), both of them are gram + rods

Endospore production is associated with Gram Positive bacteria

Since not all bacteria form endospores, we can use this as an identification factor

The shape of the spore is an identifying characteristic

Swelled vs. Not swelled

The location of the spore is also an identifying characteristic

Central, Sub-Terminal, and Terminal spores

Endospores can remain dormant indefinitely but germinate quickly when the appropriate trigger is applied

Endospores differ significantly from the vegetative, or normally functioning, cells

Some spore forming bacteria are capable of causing disease

Clostridium botulinum – botulism

Clostridium perfingens – gas gangrene

Clostridium tetani – tetanus

Bacillus anthracis – Woolsorter’s Disease and wound infections

The Schaeffer-Fulton Stain Procedure is used to differentiate between endospores and vegetative cells

Schaeffer-Fulton Stain Procedure

  1. Make a smear. Air Dry. Heat fix

  2. Flood the smear with Malachite Green stain

  3. Cover the flooded smear with a square of filter paper

  4. Steam slide for 10 minutes (every minute, add a few more drops of Malachite Green stain)

  5. Allow slide to cool (after the 10 min. steam process)

Schaeffer-Fulton Stain Procedure  (cont’d)

  1. Drain slide and rinse for 30 seconds with DI water (discard filter paper)

  2. Put slide on steam rack

  3. Flood smear with Safranin (counter stain). This stains the vegetative cell. (Leave for 1 minute)

  4. Drain the slide and rinse with DI water

  5. Blot Dry

  6. Use oil immersion objective to view

Endospore Stain Example
Spores: Green
Cell: Red or Pink

Spore Germination

Activation by heat and nutrients

Ca-dipicolinate and cortex components disappear

SASPs degrade

Swelling with H2O

Cell begins to divide like normal

Bacillus anthracis  (and Clostridium) produces endospores

Easily aerosolized and spread

Relatively easy and inexpensive to prepare in laboratory

Can be easily transported without detection


by John Tyndall (1820-1893)

Boil for 15 min

Keep in warm, humid environment for 1 d

Boil for 15 min

Keep in warm, humid environment for 1 d

Boil for 15 min

Properties of endospores


The core is the spore protoplast.

It contains a complete nucleus (chromosome), all of the components of the proteins-synthetizing apparatus, and an energy-generating system based on glycolysis. Cytochromes are lacking even in aerobic species, the spores of which rely on shorted electron transport pathway involving flavoproteins. A number of vegetative cell enzymes are increased in amount (eg. alanine racemase), and a number of unique enzymes are formed (eg. dipicolinic acid synthetase).

The energy for germination is stored as
3-phosphoglycerate rather than as ATP.


The heat resistance of spores is due in part to their dehydrated state and in part to the presence in the core of large amounts (5 – 15% of the spore dry weight) of calcium dipicolinate, which is formed from an intermediate of the the lysine biosynthetic pathway.

In some way not yet understood, these properties result in the stabilization of the spore enzymes, most of which exhibit normal heat lability when isolated soluble form.

Spore wall

The innermost layer surrounding the inner spore membrane is called the spore wall.

It contains normal peptidoglycan and becomes the cell wall of the germinating vegetative cell.


The cortex is the thickest layer of the spore envelope.

It contains an unusual type of peptidoglycan, with many fewer cross-links than are found in cell wall peptidoglycan.

Cortex peptidoglycan is extremly sensitive to lysozyme, and its autolysis plays a key role in spore germination.


The coat is composed of a keratin-like protein containing many intramolecular disulfide bonds.

The impermeability of this layer confers on spores their relative resistance to antibacteral chemical agents.


The exosporium is a lipoprotein membrane containing some carbohydrate.


The germination process occurs in three stages:





Even when placed in an environment that favors germination (eg. nutritionally rich medium) bacterial spores will not germinate unless first activated by one or another agent that damages the spore coat.

Among the agents that can overcome spore dormancy are heat, abrasion, acidity, and componds containing free sulfhydryl groups.


Once activated, a spore will initiate germination if the environmental conditions are favorable.

Different species have evolved receptors recognise different effectors as signaling a rich medium.

Binding of the effector activates an autolysin that rapidly degrades the cortex peptidoglycan. Water is taken up, calcium dipicolinate is released, and a variety of spore constituents are degraded by hydrolytic enzymes.


Degradation of the cortex and outer layers results in the emergence of a new vegetative cell consisting of the spore protoplast with its surrounding wall.

A period of active biosynthesis follows. This period, which terminates in cell division, is called outgrowth.

Outgrowh requires a supply of all nutrients essenial for cell growth.

The spore stain

Spores are most simply observed as intracellular refractile bodies in unstained cell suspensions or as colorless areas in cell stained by conventional methods.

The spore wall is relatively impermeable, but dyes can be made to penetrate it by haeting the preparation.

The same impermeability then serves to prevent decolorization of the spore by a period of alcohol treatment sufficient to decolorize vegetative cells. The latter can finally be counterstained. Spores are commonly stained with malachite green or carbolfuchsin.


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