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Ultrasound shown to be potentially safe, effective way to kill bacteria

High-power ultrasound, currently used for cell disruption, particle size reduction, welding and vaporization, has been shown to be 99.99 percent effective in killing bacterial spores after only 30 seconds of non contact exposure in experiments conducted by researchers at Penn State and Ultran Labs, Boalsburg, Pa.

In the experiments, bacterial spores contained in a paper envelope, were placed slightly (3mm) above the active area of a specially equipped source of inaudible, high frequency (70 to 200 kHz) sound waves and hit for 30 seconds. There was no contact medium, such as water or gel, between the ultrasound source and the spores as is typically used in low power medical diagnostic ultrasound. The experiments mark the first time that Non Contact Ultrasound (NCU) has been shown to inactivate bacterial spores.

The researchers say the experiments demonstrate that NCU is a potentially safe, effective, non-radioactive way to decontaminate mail, including packages, since ultrasound waves potentially can penetrate cardboard and other wrappings just as they do layers of skin and tissue when used to image internal organs in the human body. They add that the technology could potentially sterilize medical and surgical equipment, food materials, the air duct systems of buildings, airplanes even the space station.

The research team includes Dr. Kelli Hoover, assistant professor of entomology; Mahesh Bhardwaj, director of research and development, Ultran Labs; and Dr. Nancy Ostiguy, senior research associate in entomology. A patent, "Gas Contact Ultrasound Germicide and Therapeutic Treatment," is pending on the technique.

Hoover explains that the team used Bt spores in their experiments rather than the deadly anthrax spores found to contaminate mail last year. Bt, bacillus thuringiensis, is a common commercial insecticide and is also a close cousin of the anthrax bacillus. "Bacillus anthracis and bacillus thuringiensis are very close relatives,"
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Contact: Barbara Hale
bah@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
13-Dec-2002


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