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J Bacteriol. 2008 Sep;190(18):6197-203. doi: 10.1128/JB.00623-08. Epub 2008 Jun 27.

Role of spore coat proteins in the resistance of Bacillus subtilis spores to Caenorhabditis elegans predation.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY 10032, USA.


Bacterial spores are resistant to a wide range of chemical and physical insults that are normally lethal for the vegetative form of the bacterium. While the integrity of the protein coat of the spore is crucial for spore survival in vitro, far less is known about how the coat provides protection in vivo against predation by ecologically relevant hosts. In particular, assays had characterized the in vitro resistance of spores to peptidoglycan-hydrolyzing enzymes like lysozyme that are also important effectors of innate immunity in a wide variety of hosts. Here, we use the bacteriovorous nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, a likely predator of Bacillus spores in the wild, to characterize the role of the spore coat in an ecologically relevant spore-host interaction. We found that ingested wild-type Bacillus subtilis spores were resistant to worm digestion, whereas vegetative forms of the bacterium were efficiently digested by the nematode. Using B. subtilis strains carrying mutations in spore coat genes, we observed a correlation between the degree of alteration of the spore coat assembly and the susceptibility to the worm degradation. Surprisingly, we found that the spores that were resistant to lysozyme in vitro can be sensitive to C. elegans digestion depending on the extent of the spore coat structure modifications.

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