Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name



Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Steven J. Rehse


The detection and identification of pathogenic bacteria has become more important than ever due to the increase of potential bioterrorism threats and the high mortality rate of bacterial infections worldwide. Raman spectroscopy has recently gained popularity as an attractive robust approach for the molecular characterization, rapid identification, and accurate classification of a wide range of bacteria.

In this dissertation, Raman spectroscopy utilizing advanced statistical techniques was used to identify and discriminate between different pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacterial strains of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus bacterial species by probing the molecular compositions of the cells.

The five-carbon sugar xylitol, which cannot be metabolized by the oral and nasopharyngeal bacteria, had been recognized by clinicians as a preventive agents for dental caries and many studies have demonstrated that xylitol causes a reduction in otitis media (chronic inner ear infections) and other nasopharyngeal infections. Raman spectroscopy was used to characterize the uptake and metabolic activity of xylitol in pathogenic (viridans group Streptococcus) and nonpathogenic (E. coli) bacteria by taking their Raman spectra before xylitol exposure and after growing with xylitol and quantifying the significant differences in the molecular vibrational modes due to this exposure. The results of this study showed significant stable spectral changes in the S. viridians bacteria induced by xylitol and those changes were not the same as in some E. coli strains.

Finally, Raman spectroscopy experiments were conducted to provide important information about the function of a certain protein (wag 31) of Mycobacterium tuberculosis using a relative non-pathogenic bacterium called Mycobacterium smegmatis. Raman spectra of conditional mutants of bacteria expressing three different phosphorylation forms of wag31 were collected and analyzed. The results show that that the phosphorylation of wag31 causes significant differences in the molecular structure, namely the quantity of amino acids associated with peptidoglycan precursor proteins and lipid II as observed in the Raman spectra of these cells. Raman spectra were also acquired from the isolated cell envelope fraction of the cells expressing different forms of wag31 and the results showed that a significant number of the molecular vibrational differences observed in the cells was also observed in the cell envelope fraction, indicating that these differences are localized in the cell envelope.

Included in

Physics Commons