Inactivation of Bacteria and Biomolecules by Low-Pressure Plasma Discharges

A. von Keudell, Peter Awakowicz, J. Benedikt, V. Raballand, A. Yanguas-Gil, J. Opretzka, C. Floetgen, R. Reuter, L. Byelykh, H. Halfmann, Katharina Stapelmann, Benjamin Denis, J. Wunderlich, P. Muranyi, F. Rossi , O. Kylian, N. Hasiwa, A. Ruiz, H. Rauscher, L. Sirghi, E. Comoy, C. Dehen, L. Challier, J. P. Deslys

PLASMA PROCESSES AND POLYMERS 7(3-4, Sp. Iss. SI), volume 7, 327–352, MAR 22 2010


The inactivation of bacteria and biomolecules using plasma discharges were investigated within the European project BIODECON. The goal of the project was to identify and isolate inactivation mechanisms by combining dedicated beam experiments with especially designed plasma reactors. The plasma reactors are based on a fully computer-controlled, low-pressure inductively-coupled plasma (ICP). Four of these reactors were built and distributed among the consortium, thereby ensuring comparability of the results between the teams. Based on this combined effort, the role of UV light, of chemical sputtering (i.e. the combined impact of neutrals and ions), and of thermal effects on bacteria such as Bacillus atrophaeus, Aspergillus niger, as well as on biomolecules such as LPS, Lipid A, BSA and prions have been evaluated. The particle fluxes emerging from the plasmas are quantified by using mass spectrometry, Langmuir probe measurements, retarding field measurements and optical emission spectroscopy. The effects of the plasma on the biological systems are evaluated using atomic force microscopy, ellipsometry, electrophoresis, specially-designed western blot tests, and animal models. A quantitative analysis of the plasma discharges and the thorough study of their effect on biological systems led to the identification of the different mechanisms operating during the decontamination process. Our results confirm the role of UV in the 200-250 nm range for the inactivation of microorganisms and a large variability of results observed between different strains of the same species. Moreover, we also demonstrate the role of chemical sputtering corresponding to the synergism between ion bombardment of a surface with the simultaneous reaction of active species such as O, O-2 or H. Finally, we show that plasma processes can be efficient against different micro-organisms, bacteria and fungi, pyrogens, model proteins and prions. The effect of matrices is described, and consequences for any future industrial implementation are discussed.

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