Based on previously reported procedures for permeabilizing vegetative bacterial cells, and numerous trial-and-error attempts with bacterial endospores, a protocol was developed for effectively permeabilizing bacterial spores, which facilitated the applicability of fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) microscopy. Bacterial endospores were first purified from overgrown, sporulated suspensions of B. pumilus SAFR-032. Purified spores at a concentration of ≈10 million spores/mL then underwent proteinase-K treatment, in a solution of 468.5 μL of 100 mM Tris-HCl, 30 μL of 10% SDS, and 1.5 μL of 20 mg/mL proteinase-K for ten minutes at 35 ºC. Spores were then harvested by centrifugation (15,000 g for 15 minutes) and washed twice with sterile phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) solution. This washing process consisted of resuspending the spore pellets in 0.5 mL of PBS, vortexing momentarily, and harvesting again by centrifugation. Treated and washed spore pellets were then resuspended in 0.5 mL of decoating solution, which consisted of 4.8 g urea, 3 mL Milli-Q water, 1 mL 0.5M Tris, 1 mL 1M dithiothreitol (DTT), and 2 mL 10% sodium-dodecylsulfate (SDS), and were incubated at 65 ºC for 15 minutes while being shaken at 165 rpm.

Decoated spores were then, once again, washed twice with sterile PBS, and subjected to lysozyme/mutanolysin treatment (7 mg/mL lysozyme and 7U mutanolysin) for 15 minutes at 35 ºC. Spores were again washed twice with sterile PBS, and spore pellets were resuspended in 1-mL of 2% SDS. This treatment, facilitating inner membrane permeabilization, lasted for ten minutes at room temperature. Permeabilized spores were washed two final times with PBS, and were resuspended in 200 μL of sterile PBS. At this point, the spores were permeable and ready for downstream processing, such as oligonucleotideprobe infiltration, hybridization, and microscopic evaluation. FISH-microscopic imagery confirmed the effective and efficient (≈50% successful permeabilization and recovery) permeabilization of numerous spore preparations.

The novelty of the technology developed here is in its applicability to bacterial endospores. While protocols abound for the effective permeabilization of bacterial, archaeal, and eukaryotic vegetative cells, there are no such reliable methods for decoating and permeabilizing bacterial endospores in a manner that is amenable to downstream FISH microscopic analyses. This innovation enables the direct visualization and enumeration of spores via FISH-based microscopic techniques, circumventing the complications that accompany previously required germination regimes. The synergistic enzymatic weakening of the many spore layers facilitates a structural compromise that is just enough to render the spores permeable without degrading the spore to a level, which precludes it from recognition.

This work was done by Myron T. La Duc of Caltech, and Bidyut Mohapatra of the University of South Alabama 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-48035

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the January, 2014 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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