Mechanisms of killing spores of Bacillus subtilis by acid, alkali and ethanol

J Appl Microbiol. 2002;92(2):362-75. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2672.2002.01540.x.


Aims: To determine the mechanisms of killing of Bacillus subtilis spores by ethanol or strong acid or alkali.

Methods and results: Killing of B. subtilis spores by ethanol or strong acid or alkali was not through DNA damage and the spore coats did not protect spores against these agents. Spores treated with ethanol or acid released their dipicolinic acid (DPA) in parallel with spore killing and the core wet density of ethanol- or acid-killed spores fell to a value close to that for untreated spores lacking DPA. The core regions of spores killed by these two agents were stained by nucleic acid stains that do not penetrate into the core of untreated spores and acid-killed spores appeared to have ruptured. Spores killed by these two agents also did not germinate in nutrient and non-nutrient germinants and were not recovered by lysozyme treatment. Spores killed by alkali did not lose their DPA, did not exhibit a decrease in their core wet density and their cores were not stained by nucleic acid stains. Alkali-killed spores released their DPA upon initiation of spore germination, but did not initiate metabolism and degraded their cortex very poorly. However, spores apparently killed by alkali were recovered by lysozyme treatment.

Conclusions: The data suggest that spore killing by ethanol and strong acid involves the disruption of a spore permeability barrier, while spore killing by strong alkali is due to the inactivation of spore cortex lytic enzymes.

Significance and impact of the study: The results provide further information on the mechanisms of spore killing by various chemicals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acids / pharmacology*
  • Alkalies / pharmacology*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bacillus subtilis / drug effects*
  • Bacillus subtilis / genetics
  • Bacillus subtilis / physiology
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Mutation
  • Spores, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Spores, Bacterial / drug effects
  • Spores, Bacterial / genetics
  • Spores, Bacterial / growth & development


  • Acids
  • Alkalies
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Ethanol