Low-temperature sterilization using gas plasmas: a review of the experiments and an analysis of the inactivation mechanisms

Int J Pharm. 2001 Sep 11;226(1-2):1-21. doi: 10.1016/s0378-5173(01)00752-9.


Utilizing an ionized gas (plasma) to achieve sterilization is an alternative to conventional sterilization means as far as sterilization of heat-sensitive materials and innocuity of sterilizing agents are concerned. The literature on plasma sterilization is reviewed. A major issue of plasma sterilization is the respective roles of UV photons and reactive species such as atomic and radicals. Insight into this matter is obtained by analyzing the survival curves of microorganisms. In contrast to classical sterilization where such plots show a unique straight line, plasma sterilization yields survival diagrams with two or three different linear segments. Three basic mechanisms are involved in the plasma inactivation of microorganisms: (A) direct destruction by UV irradiation of the genetic material of microorganisms; (B) erosion of the microorganisms atom by atom, through intrinsic photodesorption by UV irradiation to form volatile compounds combining atoms intrinsic to the microorganisms; (C) erosion of the microorganisms, atom by atom, through etching to form volatile compounds as a result of slow combustion using oxygen atoms or radicals emanating from the plasma. In some cases, etching is further activated by UV photons, increasing the elimination rate of microorganisms. These mechanisms make plasma sterilization totally different from classical sterilization techniques and suggest its use to inactivate nonconventional infectious agents such as the abnormal prions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Cold Temperature
  • Sterilization / methods*
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical*