This method uses a photoaffinity label that recognizes DNA and can be used to distinguish populations of bacterial cells from bacterial spores without the use of heat shocking during conventional culture, and live from dead bacterial spores using molecular-based methods.

Biological validation of commercial sterility using traditional and alternative technologies remains challenging. Recovery of viable spores is cumbersome, as the process requires substantial incubation time, and the extended time to results limits the ability to quickly evaluate the efficacy of existing technologies. Nucleic acid amplification approaches such as PCR (polymerase chain reaction) have shown promise for improving time to detection for a wide range of applications. Recent realtime PCR methods are particularly promising, as these methods can be made at least semi-quantitative by correspondence to a standard curve. Nonetheless, PCR-based methods are rarely used for process validation, largely because the DNA from dead bacterial cells is highly stable and hence, DNAbased amplification methods fail to discriminate between live and inactivated microorganisms.

Currently, no published method has been shown to effectively distinguish between live and dead bacterial spores. This technology uses a DNA binding photoaffinity label that can be used to distinguish between live and dead bacterial spores with detection limits ranging from 109 to 102 spores/mL. An environmental sample suspected of containing a mixture of live and dead vegetative cells and bacterial endospores is treated with a photoaffinity label. This step will eliminate any vegetative cells (live or dead) and dead endospores present in the sample. To further determine the bacterial spore viability, DNA is extracted from the spores and total population is quantified by real-time PCR.

The current NASA standard assay takes 72 hours for results. Part of this procedure requires a heat shock step at 80 °C for 15 minutes before the sample can be plated. Using a photoaffinity label would remove this step from the current assay as the label readily penetrates both live and dead bacterial cells. Secondly, the photoaffinity label can only penetrate dead bacterial spores, leaving behind the viable spore population. This would allow for rapid bacterial spore detection in a matter of hours compared to the several days that it takes for the NASA standard assay.

This work was done by Alberto E. Behar of Caltech; Christina N. Stam of Oak Ridge Associated Universities; and Ronald Smiley of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-48259