Up to 15% of the dry weight of the endospore consists of calcium dipicolinate within the core, which is thought to stabilize the DNA. Dipicolinic acid could be responsible for the heat resistance of the spore, and calcium may aid in resistance to heat and oxidizing agents. However, mutants resistant to heat but lacking dipicolinic acid have been isolated, suggesting other mechanisms contributing to heat resistance are at work.
Examples of bacteria having terminal endospores include Clostridium tetani, the pathogen which causes the disease tetanus. Bacteria having a centrally placed endospore include Bacillus cereus, and those having a subterminal endospore include Bacillus subtilis. Sometimes the endospore can be so large the cell can be distended around the endospore, this is typical of Clostridium tetani.
Visualising endospores under the light microscope can be difficult due to the impermeability of the endospore wall to dyes and stains. While the rest of a bacterial cell may stain, the endospore is left colourless. To combat this, a special stain technique called a Moeller stain is used. That allows the endospore to show up as red, while the rest of the cell stains blue. Another staining technique for endospores is the Schaffer-Fulton stain, which stains endospores green and bacterial bodies red.
When a bacterium detects environmental conditions are becoming unfavourable it may start the process of sporulation, which takes about eight hours. The DNA is replicated and a membrane wall known as a spore septum begins to form between it and the rest of the cell. The plasma membrane of the cell surrounds this wall and pinches off to leave a double membrane around the DNA, and the developing structure is now known as a forespore. Calcium dipicolinate is incorporated into the forespore during this time. Next the peptidoglycan cortex forms between the two layers and the bacterium adds a spore coat to the outside of the forespore. Sporulation is now complete, and the mature endospore will be released when the surrounding vegetative cell is degraded.
Endospores are resistant to most agents which would normally kill the vegetative cells they formed from. Household cleaning products generally have no effect, nor do most alcohols, quaternary ammonium compounds or detergents. Alkylating agents however, such as ethylene oxide, are effective against endospores.
Whilst resistant to extreme heat and radiation, endospores can be destroyed by burning or autoclaving. Exposure to extreme heat for a long enough period will generally have some effect, though many endospores can survive hours of boiling or cooking. Prolonged exposure to high energy radiation, such as xrays and gamma rays, will also kill most endospores.
Endospores of the bacterium Bacillus anthracis were used in the 2001 anthrax attacks. The powder found in contaminated postal letters was composed of extracellular anthrax endospores. Inhalation, ingestion or skin contamination of these endospores, which were technically incorrectly labelled as "spores", led to a number of deaths.