Cold plasma in seed, fruit and vegetable decontamination and plant disease control – Part 2

01.09.2017  /  Scienceandmore  /  Category: Plant Biology

This blog post is the continuation of the post “Cold plasma in seed, fruit and vegetable decontamination and plant disease control – Part 1

Cold plasma utilisation in plant diseases control

The application of cold plasma on seeds and fruits/vegetables suggest effective inactivation of bacteria and fungi and at the same time seemingly little effect on the seeds and fruits/vegetables. This combination suggests beneficial effects of cold plasma in plant disease control without detrimental effects on the plant.

A single cold helium plasma treatment of Ralstonia solanacearum (that can cause wilt on several crops (Peeters et al., 2013)) infected tomato plants delayed wilting and also slowed the disease progress by 25 %, 20 days after gas plasma treatment (Jiang et al., 2014). Similarly, cold argon plasma treated tomato plants that were infected with F. oxysporum resulted in an inactivation of F. oxysporum spores. Molecular biological investigations found that gas plasma treatment alone led to the expression of genes that are associated with plant defence responses in tomato. It was, however, not determined how these PR genes were affected in F. oxysporon infected tomato plants that were treated with cold plasma. Surprisingly, this observed expression of these genes was found in the roots and not the leaves that were actually treated with gas plasma. It is rather expected that defence response is activated at the site of treatment or in the whole plant. This result illustrates that the effects of cold plasma and the triggered mechanisms in plants are still unknown.

Nevertheless, it was hypothesised that reactive components of cold plasma such as reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species could have entered the cell and acted as signalling molecules (Panngom et al., 2014). Reactive oxygen and nitrogen species are important intracellular signalling compounds of the plant defence response (Coll et al., 2011; Glazebrook 2005; Shapiguzov et al., 2012). (For the biology nerds: Jiang et al. (2014) found increased PHENYLALANINE AMMONIA-LYASE 1 (PAL1) expression in R. solanacearum infected tomato plants upon cold gas plasma treatment. PAL1 is involved in salicylic acid (SA) biosynthesis, an important signalling component of the plant defence response (Coll et al., 2011; Wildermuth et al., 2001; Fu et al., 2013). Enzyme activity assays for resistance-related plant peroxidase (POD) and polyphenol oxidase (PPO) in R. solanacearum infected tomato plants showed increased activity of both enzymes. PODs generate H2O2 upon pathogen perception, and are involved in defence response signalling and cell wall lignification (Kawano, 2003). PPOs are involved in herbivore and pathogen defence (Constabel and Barbehenn, 2008)). These results suggest that cold gas plasma could mediate plant disease control via reactive components and the induction of plant defence mechanisms.


It is generally assumed that reactive oxygen species such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and hydroxyl radicals (OH), reactive nitrogen species such as peroxynitrite (ONOO) and nitrite (NO2), and UV-light as cold plasma components contribute to microbial spore and cell inactivation. The impact of these different components, however, seems to vary between the different forms of cold plasma (Jiang et al., 2014; Laroussi and Leipold, 2004; Laroussi, 2009; Oehmigen et al., 2010; Panngom et al., 2014). Ziuzina et al. (2014) challenged the assumption that reactive oxygen and nitrogen species cause the inactivation of microorganisms. Due to the distance of approximately 16 cm between the tomato plants and the centre of the cold plasma production in their experiment, it was argued that reactive oxygen and nitrogen species would most likely react before reaching the samples (Laroussi, 2009). The group found increasing ozone concentration with increasing treatment duration and hypothesised that ozone could act as microbe inactivating agent of cold gas plasma.


The effectiveness of cold plasma mediated inactivation of microorganisms seems to depend on one hand on the specific characteristics of the microorganisms. S. enterica and E. coli that are Gram-negative bacteria with thinner outer membrane were inactivated much faster than L. monocytogenes a Gram-positive bacterium with a thicker outer membrane. It was suggested that the thinner outer membrane allowed for a diffusion of reactive components into the bacteria, subsequently killing it, whereas the thicker membrane could present a barrier that leads to reduced inactivation by cold gas plasma (Ziuzina et al., 2014). In addition to the microbial characteristics, the plant and plant tissue characteristic seem to influence the inactivation effectiveness of cold gas plasma as well. The irregular surface of strawberries and cantaloupe rind has been hypothesised to provided sites for microbial attachment that shield bacteria from cold gas plasma and contribute to biofilm-formation, subsequently protecting microbes and reducing the inactivation of E. coli, S. enterica and L. monocytogenes, compared to the smooth surface of tomatoes (Ziuzina et al., 2014; Jiang et al., 2017). This hypothesised protection of microbes due to surface differences could also apply to seeds (Kang et al., 2015; Khamsen et al., 2016).

Overall, these results indicate a beneficial effect of cold gas plasma on plant disease control, but the current scientific knowledge on the effects of cold plasma is still at an early stage.


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