Structure, assembly, and function of the spore surface layers

Annu Rev Microbiol. 2007;61:555-88. doi: 10.1146/annurev.micro.61.080706.093224.


Endospores formed by Bacillus, Clostridia, and related genera are encased in a protein shell called the coat. In many species, including B. subtilis, the coat is the outermost spore structure, and in other species, such as the pathogenic organisms B. anthracis and B. cereus, the spore is encased in an additional layer called the exosporium. Both the coat and the exosporium have roles in protection of the spore and in its environmental interactions. Assembly of both structures is a function of the mother cell, one of two cellular compartments of the developing sporangium. Studies in B. subtilis have revealed that the timing of coat protein production, the guiding role of a small group of morphogenetic proteins, and several types of posttranslational modifications are essential for the fidelity of the assembly process. Assembly of the exosporium requires a set of novel proteins as well as homologues of proteins found in the outermost layers of the coat and of some of the coat morphogenetic factors, suggesting that the exosporium is a more specialized structure of a multifunctional coat. These and other insights into the molecular details of spore surface morphogenesis provide avenues for exploitation of the spore surface layers in applications for biotechnology and medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus / physiology
  • Bacillus / ultrastructure*
  • Bacterial Proteins / analysis
  • Bacterial Proteins / physiology
  • Muramidase / pharmacology
  • Quorum Sensing
  • Spores, Bacterial / chemistry
  • Spores, Bacterial / physiology*
  • Spores, Bacterial / ultrastructure*
  • Surface Properties


  • Bacterial Proteins
  • spore-specific proteins, Bacillus
  • Muramidase