Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Terri A. Camesano, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Nancy A. Burnham, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Robert W. Thompson, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

George D. Pins, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Maria M. Santore, Committee Member




Bacillus anthracis has been classified as one of the most dangerous bioterrorism agents causing high mortality rates in short periods of time. Anthrax spores are extremely resistant to chemical and environmental factors, and have the ability to return into a vegetative (virulent) state during the process of germination. Previous research has suggested that spores can be eradicated with common disinfectants after germination and release of spore coats. During germination, the spore coat is degraded, making the spore susceptible to penetration of chemicals into the spore core. While previous research has focused on a qualitative understanding of germination of spores by obtaining high-resolutions images of spore coats to understand how protein coat layers change during germination, very few studies have evaluated changes in mechanical properties of spores during germination, and how germination affects virulence of macrophages. In this study, we performed a series of in vitro experiments to do an in-depth analysis of germination and virulence of B. anthracis. Atomic force microscopy (AFM) was used to investigate changes in spore surface properties during germination including morphology, roughness, elasticity, and spring constant. AFM results suggested that germination mechanisms depend on germinants used to trigger germination and roughness of Bacillus species increase during germination. In addition, the elasticity and spring cell constant of B. anthracis spores are affected during germination since the elastic moduli and cell spring constant values decreased with time as the spore was germinating, making the cells more susceptible. Spore killing was also tested both in sporulated and vegetative B. anthracis using the antimicrobial peptide chrysophsin-3 and the surfactant dodecylamine (DDA). Both killing agents were capable of eradicating B. anthracis spores, but more killing was observed for spores that were germinating or had become vegetative. The presence of germinant receptors from the Ger operon and its role on germination kinetics of B. anthracis was also investigated. The germination of mutant spores that carried one receptor or lacked all germinant receptors was compared to the germination kinetics of wild-type B. anthracis. Our results suggest that germination of spores is modified by the presence or absence of germinant receptors. Furthermore, the mutant B. anthracis strain lacking all receptors germinated suggesting that other receptor independent pathways may exist in B. anthracis. Finally the ability of B. anthracis to adhere, grow, and invade macrophages was investigated. Invasion of macrophages by B. anthracis was dependent on germinant receptors and the ability of spores to germinate and multiply. Our results suggest that macrophages were not capable of killing infecting spores, and on the contrary, germination of spores inside macrophages caused the lysis of macrophages. An uncontrolled release of cytokines by macrophages was elicited by spores and germinated B. anthracis. Our study helps understand the process of germination of B. anthracis spores at a nanomolecular level. Our investigation may be a valuable tool in the design and development of antisporal compounds.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Biomedical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





Anthrax, Bacillus anthracis, spores, cytokine, germination