By Jane Benson, NSRDEC Public AffairsJanuary 8, 2018
NATICK, Mass. -- Sometimes to make a scientific advance you need to be serious, or in this case "B. cereus."
Dr. Chris Doona -- a senior research chemist at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center -- and collaborators at NSRDEC and in academia are working together to find new ways of preventing the growth of resistant bacterial spores. The research has food preservation applications.
One microorganism the scientists focused on was Bacillus cereus, abbreviated B. cereus. Another bacterial spore they focused on was Bacillus anthracis Sterne, a surrogate of Bacillus anthracis (the causative agent of Anthrax). B. cereus is a close relative of B. anthracis.
"B. cereus infections can come from contaminated foods and usually produce mild symptoms, but reported outbreaks demonstrate its potential severity," said Doona. "We worked together to explore the roles of lowering water activity and high hydrostatic pressure on the germination of B. cereus."
The findings were published in a manuscript entitled "Effects of Alterations in Water Activity by Various Humectants on Germination of Spores of Bacillus Species with Different Germinants" in the prestigious international publication Food Microbiology published by Elsevier, the global leader in Science, Technical and Health publishing.
Doona collaborated with several other prominent scientists in this important work, and the paper was co-authored by Professor Peter Setlow (Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor) and Dr. Sonali Ghosh of the University of Connecticut Health Center, or UCHC; Florence Feeherry, formerly at NSRDEC; Lei Rao and Professor Xiaojun Liao of the China Agricultural University -- Beijing; and Xiuping Lin, Pengfei Zhang, and Professor Yongqing Li of East Carolina State University.
In this research, these scientists examined the effects of water activity and high hydrostatic pressure on the germination of spore populations, or on multiple individual spores within a population, to determine which steps in the germination process were critically affected.
"We published a number of papers using high hydrostatic pressure to germinate different types of spores and devised a new mathematical model for spore germination that will be published later this year," said Doona. "The differences between different spore species and those caused by mutations in a germination protein are amazing, and so is the variability of individual spores in a population."
"If you take a large population of spores, even though they are the same genetically, it turns out that the behavior of the different individuals can vary dramatically," said Setlow.
The researchers' analysis may be the first of its kind.
"As far as we know, no one has ever done a very thorough analysis of the effects of water activity on the germination of spores," said Setlow, "so I think that we have increased the understanding of ways to control spore germination with water activity and high pressure that are compatible with food preservation and other applications."
In addition to aiding NSRDEC's food preservation research, these findings will also benefit NSRDEC's research efforts in the bio-decontamination of protective clothing.
"The basic elements of what we are learning here may be carried into other things such as anthrax spore decontamination," said Doona.
Setlow, Feeherry and Doona find their work extremely rewarding.
"I get to solve puzzles every day," said Setlow. "Now, some days the puzzle defeats me, but now and again I solve a puzzle. I get an answer. That's why I like research. It's always exciting."
"I like working with Peter and Chris," said Feeherry. "This paper is a major advance in spore research that has long legacies of accomplishments at UCHC and at NSRDEC."
"I like the fact that this is the intersection between basic and applied research to meet military and commercial needs," said Doona. "I think we accomplished something really foundational here, and I look forward to seeing the Soldier in the field benefit from these advances."
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.