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Membrane Permeabilization in Relation to Inactivation Kinetics of Lactobacillus Species due to Pulsed Electric Fields

  • Patrick C. Wouters
  • Ad P. Bos
  • Joerg Ueckert
American Society for Microbiology
Publication Date
Jul 01, 2001


Membrane permeabilization due to pulsed electric field (PEF) treatment of gram-positive Lactobacillus cells was investigated by using propidium iodide uptake and single-cell analysis with flow cytometry. Electric field strength, energy input, treatment time, and growth phase affected membrane permeabilization of Lactobacillus plantarum during PEF treatment. A correlation between PEF inactivation and membrane permeabilization of L. plantarum cells was demonstrated, whereas no relationship was observed between membrane permeabilization and heat inactivation. The same results were obtained with a Lactobacillus fermentum strain, but the latter organism was more PEF resistant and exhibited less membrane permeabilization, indicating that various bacteria have different responses to PEF treatment. While membrane permeabilization was the main factor involved in the mechanism of inactivation, the growth phase and the acidity of the environment also influenced inactivation. By using flow cytometry it was possible to sort cells in the L. plantarum population based on different cell sizes and shapes, and the results were confirmed by image analysis. An apparent effect of morphology on membrane permeabilization was observed, and larger cells were more easily permeabilized than smaller cells. In conclusion, our results indicate that the ability of PEF treatment to cause membrane permeabilization is an important factor in determining inactivation. This finding should have an effect on the final choice of the processing parameters used so that all microorganisms can be inactivated and, consequently, on the use of PEF treatment as an alternative method for preserving food products.

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