New finding about anthrax proteins could aid in fighting the biothreat

A team of New York University microbiologists have discovered that bacterial spores carry an extra coating of protection that has been previously undetected by researchers, opening the door for new anthrax eradication techniques.

The findings, which were published in the most recent issue of the journal Current Biology, offer insight into why certain spores of the bacteria that cause anthrax, botulism and tetanus survive methods to eradicate them.

Researchers reported in Current Biology that they studied the spores of a non-pathogenic bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, which is commonly found in soil. Specifically, the scientists studied the proteins that make up the protective layers of the spores. 

Previous research has shown that 70 different proteins make up these layers, the researchers told Current Biology.

To examine how these proteins interact to form the spore’s protective coats, researchers looked at the coat formation of both normal and mutant spores. For mutant spores, they removed genes for selected coat proteins. Researchers told Current Biology this allowed them to determine what proteins were necessary in and extraneous to the formation of the coats of the spores.

Fluorescence microscopy experiments and high-resolution image analysis enabled the researchers to pinpoint the location of the spore coat proteins with a high degree of precision and build a map of the spore coat.

The experiments suggested the existence of a new outermost layer of the spore coat. They were then able to confirm the existence of this new layer using electron microscopy.

The researchers have dubbed this coat layer the “spore crust.” While yet to confirm it, they believe it is possible that the spore crust is a common feature of all spore-forming bacteria, including anthrax pathogens.

The study was conducted by researchers at New York University's Center for Genomics and Systems Biology, Loyola University's Medical Center and Princeton University's Department of Molecular Biology.

The research was funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.

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