Plasmas are ionized gases that can be obtained by providing sufficient energy input. Through ionization, fundamental properties of the gas are changed, which is why plasmas are also commonly referred to as the “fourth state of matter”. Plasmas consist of highly reactive chemical species, UV radiation, and the electric fields used to ignite the plasma. This unique mixture of reactive components makes plasma treatment an intriguing method for use in biology and medicine, particularly using plasmas at ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure. Plasmas are remarkably effective at inactivating bacteria and other microorganisms and can therefore be used to sterilize surfaces and equipment (e.g. surgical tools). However, plasmas are also suited to treat humans, for instance to disinfect hands or to decrease the bacterial load in chronic wounds.
In the Bandow lab, we focus on identifying and deciphering the mechanisms of bacterial inactivation by plasmas. Although plasmas are multi-faceted and quite effective, bacteria are known to quickly adapt to their environment and are therefore likely to develop resistance to plasma exposure over time. We seek to understand potential resistance mechanisms in order to predict and prevent the occurrence of plasma-resistance in bacteria.
Apart from their destructive capabilities, we also use plasmas productively: in a second project, chemical species derived from plasma-treated liquids are used by specialized enzymes in biocatalysis. Enzymes are nature’s catalysts and exceptionally selective. Together with the extraordinary chemistry provided by plasmas, enzymes enable the production of valuable specialty chemicals in an increasingly sustainable fashion.