Experimental studies addressing the longevity of Bacillus subtilis spores - The first data from a 500-year experiment

Nikea Ulrich, Katja Nagler, Michael Laue, Charles S. Cockell, Peter Setlow, Ralf Moeller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The ability to form endospores allows certain Gram-positive bacteria (e.g. Bacillus subtilis) to challenge the limits of microbial resistance and survival. Thus, B. subtilis is able to tolerate many environmental extremes by transitioning into a dormant state as spores, allowing survival under otherwise unfavorable conditions. Despite thorough study of spore resistance to external stresses, precisely how long B. subtilis spores can lie dormant while remaining viable, a period that potentially far exceeds the human lifespan; is not known although convincing examples of long term spore survival have been recorded. In this study, we report the first data from a 500-year microbial experiment, which started in 2014 and will finish in 2514. A set of vials containing a defined concentration of desiccated B. subtilis spores is opened and tested for viability every two years for the first 24 years and then every 25 years until experiment completion. Desiccated baseline spore samples were also exposed to environmental stresses, including X-rays, 254 nm UV-C, 10% H2O2, dry heat (120 degrees C) and wet heat (100 degrees C) to investigate how desiccated spores respond to harsh environmental conditions after long periods of storage. Data from the first 2 years of storage show no significant decrease in spore viability. Additionally, spores of B. subtilis were subjected to various short-term storage experiments, revealing that space-like vacuum and high NaCl concentration negatively affected spore viability.

Original languageEnglish
Article number0208425
Number of pages14
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2018


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