Escherichia coli Cells Exposed to Lethal Doses of Electron Beam Irradiation Retain Their Ability to Propagate Bacteriophages and Are Metabolically Active.
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Reports in the literature suggest that bacteria exposed to lethal doses of ionizing radiation, i.e., electron beams, are unable to replicate yet they remain metabolically active. To investigate this phenomenon further, we electron beam irradiated Escherichia coli cells to a lethal dose and measured their membrane integrity, metabolic activity, ATP levels and overall cellular functionality via bacteriophage infection. We also visualized the DNA double-strand breaks in the cells. We used non-irradiated (live) and heat-killed cells as positive and negative controls, respectively. Our results show that the membrane integrity of E. coli cells is maintained and that the cells remain metabolically active up to 9 days post-irradiation when stored at 4C. The ATP levels in lethally irradiated cells are similar to non-irradiated control cells. We also visualized extensive DNA damage within the cells and confirmed their cellular functionality based on their ability to propagate bacteriophages for up to 9 days post-irradiation. Overall, our findings indicate that lethally irradiated E. coli cells resemble live non-irradiated cells more closely than heat-killed (dead) cells.