In this article, an original non-thermal process to inactivate dehydrated bacterial spores is described. The use of gases such as nitrogen or argon as transmission media under high isostatic pressure led to an inactivation of over 2 logs CFU/g of Bacillus subtilis spores at 430 MPa, room temperature, for a 1 min treatment. A major requirement for the effectiveness of the process resided in the highly dehydrated state of the spores. Only a water activity below 0.3 led to substantial inactivation. The solubility of the gas in the lipid components of the spore and its diffusion properties was essential to inactivation. The main phenomenon involved seems to be the sorption of the gas under pressure by the spores' structures such as residual pores and plasma membranes, followed by a sudden drop in pressure. Observation by phase-contrast microscopy suggests that internal structures have been affected by the treatment. Some parallels with polymer permeability to gas and rigidity at various water activities offer a few clues about the behavior of the outer layers of spores in response to this parameter and provide a good explanation for the sensitivity of spores to high gas pressure discharge at low hydration levels. Specificity of microorganisms such as size, organization, and composition could help in understanding the differences between spores and yeast regarding the parameters required for inactivation, such as pressure or maintenance time. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2012; 109:1996–2004. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
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