Polymer Science Faculty Research

High resolution FESEM and TEM reveal bacterial spore attachment

Matthew Becker


Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) studies in the 1960s and early 1970s using conventional thin section and freeze fracture methodologies revealed ultrastructural bacterial spore appendages. However, the limited technology at that time necessitated the time-consuming process of imaging serial sections and reconstructing each structure. Consequently, the distribution and function of these appendages and their possible role in colonization or pathogenesis remained unknown. By combining high resolution field emission electron microscopy with TEM images of identical bacterial spore preparations, we have been able to obtain images of intact and sectioned Bacillus and Clostridial spores to clearly visualize the appearance, distribution, resistance (to trypsin, chloramphenicol, and heat), and participation of these structures to facilitate attachment of the spores to glass, agar, and human cell substrates. Current user-friendly commercial field emission scanning electron microscopes (FESEMs), permit high resolution imaging, with high brightness guns at lower accelerating voltages for beam sensitive intact biological samples, providing surface images at TEM magnifications for making direct comparisons. For the first time, attachment structures used by pathogenic, environmental, and thermophile bacterial spores could be readily visualized on intact spores to reveal how specific appendages and outer spore coats participated in spore attachment, colonization, and invasion.