Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Nonionizing Radiation and HIV
Name: Flora R Pitchford
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A 

What are the effects of nonionizing radiation on DNA , RNA or any other cell components? Is the HIV virus ever inactive? Where is it hiding for years at a time?

1) non-ionizing radiation should have little effect on DNA, RNA, or other cell components. If, by definition, individual photons are not capable of ionizing (i.e., knocking off electrons thus creating a charged moiety) they should have little effect on molecules within the cell. Obviously, this is not always strictly true. Excessive heat (IR radiation) may not ionize, but can do damage. And the same of is true of high doses of other "non-ionizing" radiations (e.g., radio waves, etc.)
2) HIV, like a number of viruses, can be inactive for prolonged periods. If it simply inserts its genetic material into a host cell's genes, it may "live" quietly for as long as that host cell or its descendents survive. Due to various factors (e.g., stress) some viral genes may turn on at some time, causing the cell to start cranking viral components. These may bud off from the cell or, in some cases, may fill it up and destroy it. The reasons why viruses "choose" one route or the other is often not clear.

Ethan Allen

Click here to return to the Biology Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory