Local News

Get A Better Understanding Of Anthrax, Spores

Posted November 7, 2001

— Do you really know what a spore is? Did you know that a spore, like anthrax spores, can survive, perhaps thousands of years, just waiting to spring back to life?

Dr. Stephen Libby, a microbiologist at North Carolina State University, is passionate about bacteria. With bacillus anthrasas or anthrax in the headlines, he wants people to understand the microscopic world of bacteria better.

"Bacteria do not have brains. They don't seek people out and they don't intentionally jump down their throats," he says.

In fact, anthrax is at home in the soil.

"When a cow or a sheep or a person especially in agriculture runs into these, it's an accidental event and the bacillus are just trying to make a living, frankly," he says.

Libby says the most amazing part about many bacteria is their ability to make spores designed to carry the bacteria through hard times.

"They can withstand desiccation, drying out for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years in extreme heat, extreme nutrient conditions," he says.

Spores do not eat, drink, move or breathe. They wait for the right environmental conditions to germinate and regrow.

"A spore is just a bacteria waiting to happen again," he says.

The anthrax spores themselves do not kill people. They find their way into a person's lungs or gastrointestinal system or skin and germinate there and produce toxins that do the dirty work. It is all part of a life cycle that returns the anthrax and the nutrients found in the body to the soil.

"They are just single cells, but they are already one step ahead of us and I find that fascinating," he says.

Millions of spores are out there around us every day and it is impossible to tell what they are until you put them in a petrie dish and grow them in the lab. There is also a DNA test that looks at the genetic structure that can tell one spore from another.

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