Alternative to antibiotics: Plasmas attack bacterial cells on several levels

Oct 01, 2013
Plasma reactor: The RUB team generates atmospheric-pressure plasmas and tests which effects UV radiation and reactive particles have on bacterial cells and molecules. Credit: © RUB, Foto: Jan-Wilm Lackmann

As they destroy bacteria very efficiently, plasmas constitute an alternative to chemical disinfectants and potentially to antibiotics, as well. How they achieve this effect has been investigated by biologists, plasma physicists and chemists at the Ruhr-Universität (RUB). Cold atmospheric-pressure plasmas attack the prokaryote's cell envelope, proteins and DNA.

"This is too great a challenge for the repair mechanisms and the stress response systems of bacteria," says Junior Professor Dr Julia Bandow, Head of the Junior Research Group Microbial Antibiotic Research at the RUB. "In order to develop plasmas for specific applications, for example for treating chronic wounds or for root canal disinfection, it is important to understand how they affect cells. Thus, undesirable side effects may be avoided right from the start." The team reports in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

Plasmas affect cell envelope, DNA and proteins

Depending on their specific composition, plasmas may contain different components, for example ions, radicals or light in the ultraviolet spectrum, so-called UV photons. Until now, scientists have not understood which components of the complex mixture contribute to which extent to the antibacterial effect. Julia Bandow's team has analysed the effect of UV photons and reactive particles, namely radicals and ozone, on both the and on the level of single biomolecules, namely DNA and proteins. On the cellular level, the reactive particles alone were most effective: they destroyed the cell envelope. On the molecular level, both plasma components were effective. Both UV radiation and reactive particles damaged the DNA; in addition, the reactive particles inactivated proteins.

No effective antibiotics in ten years' time?

Atmospheric-pressure plasmas are already being used as surgical tools, for example in nasal and intestinal polyp extraction. Their properties as disinfectants may also be of interest with regard to medical applications. "In ten years, bacteria might have developed resistance against all antibiotics that are available to us today," says Julia Bandow. Without , surgery would become impossible due to high infection rates.

Explore further: Mycologist promotes agarikon as a possibility to counter growing antibiotic resistance

More information: J.-W.Lackmann, S. Schneider, E. Edengeiser, F. Jarzina, S. Brinckmann, E. Steinborn, M. Havenith, J. Benedikt, J.E. Bandow (2013): Photons and particles emitted from cold atmospheric-pressure plasma inactivate bacteria and biomolecules independently and synergistically, Journal of the Royal Society Interface, DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2013.0591

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Plasma therapy: An alternative to antibiotics?

Dec 15, 2010

Cold plasma jets could be a safe, effective alternative to antibiotics to treat multi-drug resistant infections, says a study published this week in the January issue of the Journal of Medical Microbiology.

Redefining 'clean'

Oct 31, 2011

Aiming to take "clean" to a whole new level, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Maryland at College Park have teamed up to study how low-temperature plasmas can deactivate potentially ...

Making industrial plasma safer

Sep 18, 2013

(Phys.org) —EPFL scientists have uncovered the physics behind the formation of plasmoids – funnel-like, high-energy plasmas that can severely damage industrial plasma reactors, causing millions in repairs ...

Recommended for you

YEATS protein potential therapeutic target for cancer

Oct 23, 2014

Federal Express and UPS are no match for the human body when it comes to distribution. There exists in cancer biology an impressive packaging and delivery system that influences whether your body will develop cancer or not.

Precise and programmable biological circuits

Oct 23, 2014

A team led by ETH professor Yaakov Benenson has developed several new components for biological circuits. These components are key building blocks for constructing precisely functioning and programmable bio-computers.

User comments : 0