Isolation and characterization of bacteria resistant to metallic copper surfaces

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 Mar;76(5):1341-8. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01952-09. Epub 2010 Jan 4.


Metallic copper alloys have recently attracted attention as a new antimicrobial weapon for areas where surface hygiene is paramount. Currently it is not understood on a molecular level how metallic copper kills microbes, but previous studies have demonstrated that a wide variety of bacteria, including Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Clostridium difficile, are inactivated within minutes or a few hours of exposure. In this study, we show that bacteria isolated from copper alloy coins comprise strains that are especially resistant against the toxic properties exerted by dry metallic copper surfaces. The most resistant of 294 isolates were Gram-positive staphylococci and micrococci, Kocuria palustris, and Brachybacterium conglomeratum but also included the proteobacterial species Sphingomonas panni and Pseudomonas oleovorans. Cells of some of these bacterial strains survived on copper surfaces for 48 h or more. Remarkably, when these dry-surface-resistant strains were exposed to moist copper surfaces, resistance levels were close to those of control strains and MICs for copper ions were at or below control strain levels. This suggests that mechanisms conferring resistance against dry metallic copper surfaces in these newly isolated bacterial strains are different from well-characterized copper ion detoxification systems. Furthermore, staphylococci on coins did not exhibit increased levels of resistance to antibiotics, arguing against coselection with copper surface resistance traits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents / toxicity*
  • Copper / toxicity*
  • Drug Resistance, Bacterial*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / classification
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / classification
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Gram-Positive Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • Microbial Viability / drug effects


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Copper