AIMS To compare the germination of laboratory and wild strains of Bacillus subtilis. METHODS AND RESULTS The spore germination of B. subtilis 168 (subsp. subtilis) was compared with that of the laboratory strain W23 (subsp. spizizenii) and desert-sourced isolates, including one member of subsp. subtilis (RO-NN-1), strains TU-B-10, RO-E-2, N10 and DV1-B-1, (all subsp. spizizenii), the B. mojavensis strain RO-H-1 and a B. subtilis natto strain. All germinated in L-alanine, although some were slower, and some 10-fold less sensitive to germinant. All germinated in calcium dipicolinate (CaDPA). Germination in asparagine, glucose, fructose + KCl was slow and incomplete in many of the strains, and decoating RO-NN-1 and W23 spores did not restore germination rates. Comparing the sequences of B. subtilis strains 168, RO-NN-1, W23, TU-B-10 and DV1-B-1, the operons encoding GerA, B and K germinant receptors were intact, although the two additional operons yndDEF and yfkQRST had suffered deletions or were absent in several spizizenii strains. CONCLUSIONS Wild strains possess an efficient germination machinery for L-alanine germination. AGFK germination is often less efficient, the gerB genes more diverged, and the two germinant receptor operons of unknown function have been lost from the genome in many subsp. spizizenii strains. SIGNIFICANCE AND IMPACT OF THE STUDY The two major subspecies of B. subtilis have conserved GerA receptor function, confirming its importance, at least in the natural environments of these strains.