Cells of E. coli K-12 strain AB 1886 were irradiated in oxygenated phosphate buffered saline at 2°C with electrons from a 4-MeV linear accelerator. The yield of DNA single-strand breaks was determined as a function of the dose rate between 2.5 and 21,000 krad/min. For dose rates over 100 krad/min the yield was found to be constant. Below 10 krad/min the yield of breaks decreases drastically. This is explained by rejoining of breaks during irradiation. Twenty percent of the breaks induced by acute exposure are repaired within 3 min at 2°C. Superinfecting phage λ DNA is repaired at the same rate as chromosomal DNA. In contrast to the results obtained with phosphate-buffered saline, an increase in the number of breaks after irradiation is observed when the bacteria are suspended in tris buffer. It is suggested that buffers of low ionic strength facilitate the leakage through the membrane of a small-molecular-weight component(s) necessary for DNA strand rejoining.

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