Rapid Discrimination of Bacillus Anthracis From Other Members of the B. Cereus Group by Mass and Sequence of "Intact" Small Acid Soluble Proteins (SASPs) Using Mass Spectrometry

J Microbiol Methods. 2006 Nov;67(2):230-40. doi: 10.1016/j.mimet.2006.03.024. Epub 2006 May 26.


The intentional contamination of buildings, e.g. anthrax in the bioterrorism attacks of 2001, demonstrated that the population can be affected rapidly and lethally if the appropriate treatment is not provided at the right time. Molecular approaches, primarily involving PCR, have proved useful in characterizing "white powders" used in these attacks as well as isolated organisms. However there is a need for a simpler approach, which does not involve temperamental reagents (e.g. enzymes and primers) which could potentially be used by first responders. It is demonstrated here that small acid-soluble proteins (SASPs), located in the core region of Bacillus spores, are reliable biomarkers for identification. The general strategy used in this study was to measure the molecular weight (MW) of an intact SASP by electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI MS) followed by generation of sequence-specific information by ESI MS/MS (tandem mass spectrometry). A prominent SASP of mass 6679 was present in all B. anthracis strains. For B. cereus and B. thuringiensis strains the SASP had a mass of 6712. This represents a two amino acid substitution (serine to alanine; phenylalanine to tyrosine). The only SASP present in the B. anthracis genome consistent with this sequence is encoded by the gene ssB. This protein has a predicted mass of 6810, presumably post-translational processing leads to loss of methionine (mass 131) generating a SASP of mass 6679. This study showed that intact SASPs can be used as a biomarker for identification of B. anthracis; the protocol is simple and rapid. Extrapolation of this approach might prove important for real-time biodetection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anthrax / microbiology*
  • Bacillus anthracis / chemistry*
  • Bacillus anthracis / classification
  • Bacterial Proteins / analysis*
  • Bioterrorism / prevention & control
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Electrospray Ionization
  • Spectrometry, Mass, Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionization
  • Spores, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • spore-specific proteins, Bacillus