We conducted comprehensive (untargeted) metabolic profiling of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted in culture by bacterial taxa Francisella tularensis (F. tularensis) subspecies novicida and Bacillus anthracis (B. anthracis) Sterne, surrogates for potential bacterial bioterrorism agents, as well as selective measurements of VOCs from their fully virulent counterparts, F. tularensis subspecies tularensis strain SCHU S4 and B. anthracis Ames. F. tularensis and B. anthracis were grown in liquid broth for time periods that covered logarithmic growth, stationary, and decline phases. VOCs emitted over the course of the growth phases were collected from the headspace above the cultures using solid phase microextraction (SPME) and were analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). We developed criteria for distinguishing VOCs originating from bacteria versus background VOCs (originating from growth media only controls or sampling devices). Analyses of collected VOCs revealed methyl ketones, alcohols, esters, carboxylic acids, and nitrogen- and sulfur-containing compounds that were present in the bacterial cultures and absent (or present at only low abundance) in control samples indicating that these compounds originated from the bacteria. Distinct VOC profiles where observed for F. tularensis when compared with B. anthracis while the observed profiles of each of the two F. tularensis and B. anthracis strains exhibited some similarities. Furthermore, the relative abundance of VOCs was influenced by bacterial growth phase. These data illustrate the potential for VOC profiles to distinguish pathogens at the genus and species-level and to discriminate bacterial growth phases. The determination of VOC profiles lays the groundwork for non-invasive probes of bacterial metabolism and offers prospects for detection of microbe-specific VOC biomarkers from two potential biowarfare agents.
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