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Resistivity of Spores to Ultraviolet and γ Radiation while Exposed to Ultrahigh Vacuum or at Atmospheric Pressure1

  • Gerald J. Silverman
  • Norman S. Davis
  • Norman Beecher
Publication Date
May 01, 1967
  • Physics


Viability studies were conducted on microbial spores subjected to ultrahigh vacuum (UHV) in the 10-9 to 10-10 torr range. After 5 to 7 days in vacuum, they were exposed to ultraviolet (UV) or to γ radiation either while still under vacuum or in the presence of dried air. Among the four test organisms subjected to UHV and ultraviolet radiation, Aspergillus niger was the most resistant; Bacillus megaterium, B. subtilis var. niger, and B. stearothermophilus were about equally less resistant. All four spores were more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation when UHV-dried than when desiccant-dried. Of the four test organisms subjected to UHV and γ radiation, B. megaterium proved to be the most resistant; A. niger was the least resistant; and the remaining two organisms were of intermediate resistivity. All four organisms were less radiation resistant when UHV-dried than when irradiated in their normally hydrated state, and all showed an increased radiosensitivity after vacuum drying when oxygen was present. In addition, spores of B. subtilis var. niger and A. niger were less radiosensitive when UHV-dried and irradiated in vacuum than when “wet” and irradiated in air, whereas the reverse relationship was observed for the remaining two organisms. Based on the fact that microbial contaminants can be readily shielded from UV light by soils, metal particles, etc., and considering that the levels of ionizing radiations reported to be present in interstellar space are generally lower than those used in these experiments, the decrease in radioresistivity imparted by UHV drying is not of a sufficient magnitude to sterilize dependably portions of a spacecraft while on a mission.

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