The Microwave Effect: Searching for Non-Thermal Biological Effects of Microwaves on Eschericia coli Bacteria.
Microwave irradiation is a promising method for destruction of pathogens in sludge. Sludge with reduced pathogens may be recycled through direct application to land as a soil conditioner or fertilizer. While the effectiveness of microwave irradiation on destroying pathogens is clear, the mechanism of microwave sterilization is not understood. The existence of "non-thermal" effects, induced through the electromagnetic properties of microwaves, when irradiating biological specimen with microwaves is currently in debate. Seong Mo Hong at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and other researchers around the world have witnessed that when irradiating bacteria or other pathogens with microwaves, destruction of the pathogens can be achieved at temperatures lower than if conventional heating methods are used (e.g. oven or water bath). This experiment uses gel electrophoresis to qualitatively compare the effects of conventional heating and microwave irradiation on Eschericia coli genomic DNA. Measurements of bacterial death at specific temperatures were also used to quantify the biocidal effects of conventional heating and microwave irradiation on E. coli. The gel electrophoresis results revealed that the DNA from bacteria becomes more fragmented when microwave irradiation is increased and that the fragmentation did not occur in the conventionally heated bacteria. While these results suggest "non-thermal" biological microwave effects do exist, it was concluded that more research and study needs to be devoted to investigating these effects and the mechanism of bacterial destruction by microwave irradiation.
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