Aspartic acid racemization constrains long-term viability and longevity of endospores

Renxing Liang, Maggie C.Y. Lau, Oliver Baars, Frank T. Robb, Tullis C. Onstott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Certain microorganisms survive long periods of time as endospores to cope with adverse conditions. Since endospores are metabolically inactive, the extent of aspartic acid (Asp) racemization will increase over time and might kill the spores by preventing their germination. Therefore, understanding the relationship between endospore survivability and Asp racemization is important for constraining the long-term survivability and global dispersion of spore-forming bacteria in nature. Geobacillus stearothermophilus was selected as a model organism to investigate racemization kinetics and survivability of its endospores at 65°C, 75°C and 98°C. This study found that the Asp racemization rates of spores and autoclaved spores were similar at all temperatures. The Asp racemization rate of spores was not significantly different from that of vegetative cells at 65°C. The Asp racemization rate of G. stearothermophilus spores was not significantly different from that of Bacillus subtilis spores at 98°C. The viability of spores and vegetative cells decreased dramatically over time, and the mortality of spores correlated exponentially with the degree of racemization (R2 = 0.9). This latter correlation predicts spore half-lives on the order of hundreds of years for temperatures typical of shallow marine sediments, a result consistent with studies about the survivability of thermophilic spores found in these environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberfiz132
JournalFEMS microbiology ecology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Sep 2 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Microbiology
  • Ecology


  • Geobacillus stearothermophilus
  • aspartic acid
  • endospores
  • racemization kinetics
  • survivability
  • vegetative cells


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