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New Hydroponic Plasma Technology Kills E. coli, May Revolutionize the Industry

Posted in Our Blog on April 3, 2024

A new hydroponic plasma technology kills E. coli, making hydroponically grown crops safer.

No growing method completely ensures a pathogen-free environment; however, this new technology could revolutionize the industry, creating a safer supply chain.

What is E. coli

Escherichia coli, commonly called E. coli is a type of bacteria that can be naturally found in the environment and intestines of people and animals. There are many different strains of E. coli. Some of them are harmless and a normal part of the digestive system. Others can cause a range of illnesses from mild intestinal illnesses to more serious complications such as urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and kidney failure.

STEC Infections are the Most Serious

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC) is one of the most serious types of E. coli infections.

In some cases, normally healthy individuals only experience mild illness, while others may develop more severe or life-threatening complications.

Common symptoms of STEC infection include:

  • Severe stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea (often bloody)
  • Vomiting

Some people may also experience a low fever (under 101 °F).

Symptoms often begin around three to four days after eating or drinking something contaminated with the harmful bacteria. In most cases, people feel better in about a week without medical intervention.

Contact your healthcare provider if you have:

  • bloody diarrhea
  • diarrhea lasting for more than three days accompanied by a fever higher than 102 °F
  • so much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down and pass very little urine.

In some cases, people may develop a type of kidney failure associated with STEC Infection.

Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

Hemolytic uremic syndrome, or HUS is a potentially life-threatening complication resulting in kidney failure.

About 5 to 10% of people with STEC infection will develop this serious complication. HUS symptoms begin around seven days after initial diarrheal symptoms appear, just as they begin to improve.

Common signs of HUS include decreased urination, paleness of the cheeks and lower eyelids, and feeling very tired.

If you are recovering from STEC infection and begin developing HUS symptoms, seek medical attention right away. Those with HUS require hospitalization and specialized treatment. Most people with HUS recover within a few weeks, however some may suffer permanent damage or die.

New Plasma Technology Helps Eliminate E. coli in Hydroponic Crops

E. coli is a serious health issue for humans. Conventional and hydroponic growing practices alike are vulnerable to this deadly pathogen. While hydroponics are not perfect, they can be a safer option.

What is Hydroponics?

Hydroponics is a growing technique that does not use soil. Instead, mineral nutrients are circulated through plant roots in a soil-free media. This medium is often made of perlite or vermiculite, but sometimes the crops float directly on the nutrient solution.

What Are the Benefits of Hydroponic Practices?

Hydroponic growing practices are a more sustainable option. They use less water and agro-chemical inputs than conventional growing practices and often produce higher yields throughout the year.

Instead of being grown in open fields and exposed to run-off, animals, and pests, they require fewer chemicals for pest control and are usually protected against diseases.

Are There Downsides of Hydroponic Practices?

Hydroponics, while a great alternative, are not without their own set of risks. This method is not fool proof. In fact, this growing method can be potentially less safe than soil-grown crops if agricultural hygiene practices are not maintained.

If the nutrient medium becomes contaminated, pathogens can rapidly spread through the circulating water and infect all of the plants in the system. A small problem becomes a big problem really fast.

Hydroponic Farmers Often Use Chemical Treatment to Combat This Issue

To combat this problem, hydroponic farmers often use a chemical treatment to sterilize the nutrient solution throughout the cultivation process.

While it is a solution for that farmer and those crops, it can have serious downline consequences.

These chemicals can contaminate the water supply, produce greenhouse gases, and little is known about the long-term effects of consuming products with these chemicals in the water supply.

New Hydroponic Plasma Technology May Be the Solution

Findings from a research study on a new hydroponic plasma technology applied to hydroponically grown crops was recently published in the journal, Environmental Technology & Innovation. There, researchers from Nagoya University and Meijo University in Japan present a disinfection technology that uses low-temperature plasma generated by electricity on hydroponically grown crops.

This new technology “sterilizes the crops” to promote plant growth without the use of chemical fertilizers and potential pesticides.

“Our results suggest a completely new way of disinfecting,” author Professor Masafumi Ito of Meijo University said. “Our technology can potentially reduce the production of pesticides that use fossil fuels, pollution of the environment, and residuals.”

How Does It Work?

Instead of chemicals, these scientists offer a low-temperature sterilization option.

Plasma is a gas with small electrical charges known as ions and electrons with electrically neutral reactive particles in it. A plasma generator is used to create this low-temperature plasma.

This method targets the amino acid tryptophan found in fertilizer. Tryptophan is vital for plant growth and development and an essential nutrient used in hydroponic farming.

When this plasma is applied to the nutrient solution, the electrons of the plasma generate oxygen radicals. Oxygen radicals are highly unstable oxygen particles. In this case, the oxygen radicals interact with the tryptophan and produce tryptophan radicals.

This chain reaction is important, as these tryptophan radicals “inactivate the enzymes involved in carbon metabolism in E. coli.” The plant can still use the altered tryptophan in its metabolic practices, so the plant is not affected by this change.

Tryptophan Radicals Made by New Hydroponic Plasma Technology Affects E. coli Growth

While this new plasma technology does generate a bit of heat, it isn’t the heat that kills the E. coli bacteria. Instead, it starves the bacteria. In a way…

These tryptophan radicals inactivate the glycolytic and tricarboxylic acid circuits essential for the bacteria’s survival. Without these pathways, the bacteria cannot grow and reproduce.

The result is cleaner crops in a shorter period of time without the use of chemicals.

New Hydroponic Plasma Technology Could Be the Answer as Green Strategy Evolves

Chemical pesticides are becoming increasingly taboo as more information is becoming known about the effects they have on the human body. Not only does this plasma technology accomplish the same goal without chemicals, it requires very little energy to generate.

“As the use of chemical pesticides is restricted under the [sustainable development goals] and the Green Strategy, our innovative technology can be used for sterilization simply by converting the atmosphere containing nitrogen, oxygen, and water vapor into low-temperature plasma based on electrical energy obtained from natural energy,” says lead author Professor Kenji Ishikawa of the Nagoya University Center for Low-temperature Plasma Sciences. When combined with natural energy such as solar or wind power, this technology can help reduce or eliminate farming reliance on fossil fuels, reducing greenhouse gases.

Want to Know More About Food Safety in the News?

If you’d like to know more about food safety in the news, like New Hydroponic Plasma Technology Kills E. coli, May Revolutionize the Industry, check out the Make Food Safe Blog. We regularly update trending topics, foodborne infections in the news, recalls, and more! Stay tuned for quality information to help keep your family safe, while The Lange Law Firm, PLLC strives to Make Food Safe!

By: Heather Van Tassell (contributing writer, non-lawyer)