Short peptides are capable of tight and specific binding to physiological or fortuitous receptors on the surface of cells. These peptides can be used to tag or capture target cells in an assortment of detector platforms. As part of an effort to identify small-molecule ligands for advanced detectors for spores of Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, we are screening (or biopanning) commercial phage display peptide libraries for peptides that bind tightly and selectively to spores of several Bacillus species. In addition to B. anthracis, these species include B. cereus, B. subtilis, and B. globigii. This review summarizes the methods used in our studies, the results from the biopanning experiments, and the characterization of the spore-binding peptides identified to date. Briefly, several unique families of peptides, with consensus sequences< or = seven-amino-acids long, were identified that exhibit preferential binding to spores (but not vegetative cells) of either one or only a few Bacillus species. At least one peptide family binds well to spores of multiple strains of B. anthracis, while binding poorly or not at all to spores of phylogenetically similar species. This review also discusses other points of interest regarding the use of peptide ligands for spore detection and for the detection of other types of cells.