Wet and dry density of Bacillus anthracis and other Bacillus species

J Appl Microbiol. 2008 Jul;105(1):68-77. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2008.03758.x. Epub 2008 Feb 20.


Aims: To determine the wet and dry density of spores of Bacillus anthracis and compare these values with the densities of other Bacillus species grown and sporulated under similar conditions.

Methods and results: We prepared and studied spores from several Bacillus species, including four virulent and three attenuated strains of B. anthracis, two Bacillus species commonly used to simulate B. anthracis (Bacillus atrophaeus and Bacillus subtilis) and four close neighbours (Bacillus cereus, Bacillus megaterium, Bacillus thuringiensis and Bacillus stearothermophilus), using identical media, protocols and instruments. We determined the wet densities of all spores by measuring their buoyant density in gradients of Percoll and their dry density in gradients of two organic solvents, one of high and the other of low chemical density. The wet density of different strains of B. anthracis fell into two different groups. One group comprised strains of B. anthracis producing spores with densities between 1.162 and 1.165 g ml(-1) and the other group included strains whose spores showed higher density values between 1.174 and 1.186 g ml(-1). Both Bacillus atrophaeus and B. subtilis were denser than all the B. anthracis spores studied. Interestingly and in spite of the significant differences in wet density, the dry densities of all spore species and strains were similar. In addition, we correlated the spore density with spore volume derived from measurements made by electron microscopy analysis. There was a strong correlation (R(2) = 0.95) between density and volume for the spores of all strains and species studied.

Conclusions: The data presented here indicate that the two commonly used simulants of B. anthracis, B. atrophaeus and B. subtilis were considerably denser and smaller than all B. anthracis spores studied and hence, these simulants could behave aerodynamically different than B. anthracis. Bacillus thuringiensis had spore density and volume within the range observed for the various strains of B. anthracis. The clear correlation between wet density and volume of the B. anthracis spores suggest that mass differences among spore strains may be because of different amounts of water contained within wet dormant spores.

Significance and impact of the study: Spores of nonvirulent Bacillus species are often used as simulants in the development and testing of countermeasures for biodefense against B. anthracis. The similarities and difference in density and volume that we found should assist in the selection of simulants that better resemble properties of B. anthracis and, thus more accurately represent the performance of countermeasures against this threat agent where spore density, size, volume, mass or related properties are relevant.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus anthracis / physiology*
  • Bacillus anthracis / ultrastructure
  • Bacillus cereus / physiology
  • Bacillus cereus / ultrastructure
  • Bacillus subtilis / physiology
  • Bacillus subtilis / ultrastructure
  • Bacillus thuringiensis / physiology
  • Bacillus thuringiensis / ultrastructure
  • Bacteriological Techniques
  • Geobacillus stearothermophilus / physiology
  • Geobacillus stearothermophilus / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Spores, Bacterial / physiology
  • Spores, Bacterial / ultrastructure