Endospore formation follows a complex, highly regulated developmental pathway that occurs in a broad range of Firmicutes. Although Bacillus subtilis has served as a powerful model system to study the morphological, biochemical, and genetic determinants of sporulation, fundamental aspects of the program remain mysterious for other genera. For example, it is entirely unknown how most lineages within the Firmicutes regulate entry into sporulation. Additionally, little is known about how the sporulation pathway has evolved novel spore forms and reproductive schemes. Here, we describe endospore and internal offspring development in diverse Firmicutes and outline progress in characterizing these programs. Moreover, comparative genomics studies are identifying highly conserved sporulation genes, and predictions of sporulation potential in new isolates and uncultured bacteria can be made from these data. One surprising outcome of these comparative studies is that core regulatory and some structural aspects of the program appear to be universally conserved. This suggests that a robust and sophisticated developmental framework was already in place in the last common ancestor of all extant Firmicutes that produce internal offspring or endospores. The study of sporulation in model systems beyond B. subtilis will continue to provide key information on the flexibility of the program and provide insights into how changes in this developmental course may confer advantages to cells in diverse environments.
Hutchison, E. A., Miller, D. A., & Angert, E. R. (2014). Sporulation in Bacteria: Beyond the Standard Model. Microbiology Spectrum, 2(5).