Experimental studies into the use of cold atmospheric plasmas for inactivating foodborne pathogens are presented in this thesis.
Eliminating the possibility that treatment delivered by a plasma to a population or assemblage of micro-organisms is unevenly distributed is an essential pre-requisite to attempting to interpret inactivation kinetics with a view to elucidating mechanisms of inactivation. A filtration method of depositing cells evenly on the surface of a membrane without cell stacking was developed and used throughout the work described here.
Two atmospheric plasma systems were evaluated and each brought about microbial inactivation in a distinct way. A pulsed radio frequency plasma jet operated at 3.47 MHz caused gross morphological changes to L. innocua whereas a low frequency air mesh plasma system operated at a frequency of 24 kHz led to the inactivation of these bacteria without inducing observable structural changes. Changing the operating parameters of the plasma jet system had a significant effect on the composition of the reactive plasma species generated as revealed by changes to the mode of inactivation of bacteria. In addition to inactivating bacteria, the pulsed plasma jet was shown to be highly effective in degrading and removing amyloid aggregates from the surface of mica coupons. Amyloids have widely been used as a non-infectious model for prions, and the results obtained here show potential for the application of gas plasma technology for removing prions from abiotic surfaces in medical and other applications.
It has widely been assumed that bacterial envelopes are the principal sites at which reactive plasma species bring about damage to cells. However, changing the composition of the bacterial membranes of E. coli and Listeria innocua by cultivating them at widely different temperatures to induce changes proved not to result in enhanced inactivation. Flow cytometry was also used to provide additional insights into possible mechanisms of inactivation. The following fluorescent dyes were used either singly or in combination; SYTO 13, DiBAC4(3), cFDA and PI. The results obtained with the dyes DiBAC4(3) and PI showed that Gram positive bacteria became depolarised prior to the bacterial membrane becoming compromised, possibly suggesting that the inactivating plasma species are affecting membrane proteins responsible for maintaining the bacterial charge. Differences between the fluorescent dye staining of Gram negative and Gram positive species were obtained using SYTO13 and PI demonstrating that the different membrane structures affect their interaction with the plasma.
In additional studies, the air mesh plasma was used to treat multi-drug resistant strains of Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in an attempt to reverse antibiotic resistance. MRSA PM 64 was shown to reverse its antibiotic resistance to Oxacillin, Kanamycin and Trimethoprim. Culturing the bacteria in a nutrient limited media led to increased resistance towards plasma treatment and maintenance of their high levels of antibiotic resistance.
A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.