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Staphylococcus aureus is a multidrug-resistant pathogen that not only causes a diverse array of human diseases, but also is able to survive in potentially dry and stressful environments, such as the human nose, on skin and on inanimate surfaces such as clothing and surfaces. This study investigated parameters governing desiccation tolerance of S. aureus and identified several components involved in the process. Initially, the role of environmental parameters such as temperature, growth phase, cell density, desiccation time and protectants in desiccation tolerance were determined. This established a robust model of desiccation tolerance in which S. aureus has the ability to survive on dry plastic surfaces for more than 1,097 days. Using a combination of a random screen and defined mutants, clpX, sigB and yjbH were identified as being required for desiccation tolerance. ClpX is a part of the ATP-dependent ClpXP protease, important for protein turnover, and YjbH has a proposed linked function. SigB is an accessory sigma factor with a role in generalized stress resistance. Understanding the molecular mechanisms that govern desiccation tolerance may determine the break points to be exploited to prevent the spread of this dangerous pathogen in hospitals and communities.