• Bacillus pumilus;
  • bioburden;
  • fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH);
  • spore


Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032 spores originally isolated from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory spacecraft assembly facility clean room are extremely resistant to UV radiation, H2O2, desiccation, chemical disinfection and starvation compared to spores of other Bacillus species. The resistance of B. pumilus SAFR-032 spores to standard industrial clean room sterilization practices is not only a major concern for medical, pharmaceutical and food industries, but also a threat to the extraterrestrial environment during search for life via spacecraft. The objective of the present study was to investigate the potential of Alexa-FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization with Alexa Fluor® 488 labeled oligonucleotide) method as a molecular diagnostic tool for enumeration of multiple sterilant-resistant B. pumilus SAFR-032 spores artificially encapsulated in, and released via organic solvent from, a model polymeric material: poly(methylmethacrylate) (Lucite, Plexiglas). Plexiglas is used extensively in various aerospace applications and in medical, pharmaceutical and food industries. Alexa-FISH signals were not detected from spores via standard methods for vegetative bacterial cells. Optimization of a spore permeabilization protocol capitalizing on the synergistic action of proteinase-K, lysozyme, mutanolysin and Triton X-100 facilitated efficient spore detection by Alexa-FISH microscopy. Neither of the Alexa-probes tested gave rise to considerable levels of Lucite- or solvent-associated background autofluorescence, demonstrating the immense potential of Alexa-FISH for rapid quantification of encapsulated B. pumilus SAFR-032 spores released from poly(methylmethacrylate).