Spore germination, as defined as those events that result in the loss of the spore-specific properties, is an essentially biophysical process. It occurs without any need for new macromolecular synthesis, so the apparatus required is already present in the mature dormant spore. Germination in response to specific chemical nutrients requires specific receptor proteins, located at the inner membrane of the spore. After penetrating the outer layers of spore coat and cortex, germinant interacts with its receptor: one early consequence of this binding is the movement of monovalent cations from the spore core, followed by Ca2(+) and dipicolinic acid (DPA). In some species, an ion transport protein is also required for these early stages. Early events - including loss of heat resistance, ion movements and partial rehydration of the spore core - can occur without cortex hydrolysis, although the latter is required for complete core rehydration and colony formation from a spore. In Bacillus subtilis two crucial cortex lytic enzymes have been identified: one is CwlJ, which is DPA-responsive and is located at the cortex-coat junction. The second, SleB, is present both in outer layers and at the inner spore membrane, and is more resistant to wet heat than is CwlJ. Cortex hydrolysis leads to the complete rehydration of the spore core, and then enzyme activity within the spore protoplast resumes. We do not yet know what activates SleB activity in the spore, and neither do we have any information at all on how the spore coat is degraded.