How does UV-C Inactivate Microorganisms?

In a world particularly concerned with managing harmful microorganisms, UV-C technology stands out as a powerful tool for disinfection. 

However, you may be wondering how light can be effective in eliminating airborne pathogens and if it is as effective as other disinfectant measures, such as chemical sprays or ozone machines.

In this article, we will explore UV-C’s mechanism for inactivating microorganisms and if UV-C can hold its ground when compared to alternative methods of disinfection.

What is UV-C?

UV-C light is on the ultraviolet spectrum with wavelengths ranging from 100 to 280nm. UV-C has the shortest wavelengths on the spectrum, giving it the highest energy. The energy from UV-C has the ability to impact the genetic material of viruses, bacteria, and mold. By altering the genetic material, UV-C can effectively inactivate the microorganism by forming covalent bonds with its DNA and RNA. These bonds destroy the microorganism’s ability to reproduce or perform necessary cellular functions. 

What are Microorganisms?

Microorganisms are microscopic living organisms that include bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Microorganisms serve an important purpose in the ecosystem and humans. 

Microorganisms are responsible for breaking down organic matter and for proper digestion and immune system regulation in people. However, microorganisms are also responsible for deadly diseases in plants, animals, and humans. 

How does UV-C Inactivate Microorganisms?

When microorganisms are exposed to UV-C light, the photons (light particles) penetrate the cellular structures. Once inside, the UV-C light interacts with the nucleic acids and causes damage to the genetic material by inducing the formation of thymine dimers in DNA. Adjacent thymine bases bond together and distort the DNA structure. This process effectively destroys the ability of the microorganism to reproduce, transcribe, or infect. This process is known as photodimerization. 

Studies show that UV-C is effective against pathogens, including E. coli, influenza, COVID-19, and mold. The effectiveness of inactivation depends on the intensity and duration of exposure, so be sure to follow the user manual when operating a UV-C device.

Other Ways to Disinfect: How Does UV-C Compare?

Chemicals, ozone machines, and filtration are all methods commonly utilized to eliminate harmful microorganisms. However, there are limitations to these methods, including:

  1. Resistance: Microorganisms can develop resistance to certain chemicals, resulting in superbugs that are especially difficult to eradicate. In fact, recent debates are mounting over the reduction of chemicals due to the potential of creating an antibiotic-resistant superbug. In fact, UV-C is currently being researched as a treatment solution in multi-drug-resistant localized infections.
  2. Toxicity: Ozone has been shown to effectively eliminate microorganisms. However, ozone is toxic to plants, animals, and humans. This makes ozone challenging to use in occupied spaces or places that need to be efficiently disinfected, such as hospitals and businesses.

While UV-C technology, such as Airbotx machines, can be utilized in public spaces due to the low levels of ozone emissions, it is still essential to monitor ozone levels and not come in direct contact with the eyes. 

Final Thoughts

As research progresses, the potential of UV-C in combatting antibiotic-resistant microorganisms and revolutionizing disinfection practices becomes increasingly evident. The growing body of evidence underscores the promising future of UV-C as a powerful tool in addressing microbial challenges and offering a more accessible and comprehensive approach to disinfection.

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