Survival of bacteria on metallic copper surfaces in a hospital trial

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2010 Aug;87(5):1875-9. doi: 10.1007/s00253-010-2640-1. Epub 2010 May 7.


Basic chemistry of copper is responsible for its Janus-faced feature: on one hand, copper is an essential trace element required to interact efficiently with molecular oxygen. On the other hand, interaction with reactive oxygen species in undesired Fenton-like reactions leads to the production of hydroxyl radicals, which rapidly damage cellular macromolecules. Moreover, copper cations strongly bind to thiol compounds disturbing redox-homeostasis and may also remove cations of other transition metals from their native binding sites in enzymes. Nature has learned during evolution to deal with the dangerous yet important copper cations. Bacterial cells use different efflux systems to detoxify the metal from the cytoplasm or periplasm. Despite this ability, bacteria are rapidly killed on dry metallic copper surfaces. The mode of killing likely involves copper cations being released from the metallic copper and reactive oxygen species. With all this knowledge about the interaction of copper and its cations with cellular macromolecules in mind, experiments were moved to the next level, and the antimicrobial properties of copper-containing alloys in an "everyday" hospital setting were investigated. The alloys tested decreased the number of colony-forming units on metallic copper-containing surfaces by one third compared to control aluminum or plastic surfaces. Moreover, after disinfection, repopulation of the surfaces was delayed on copper alloys. This study bridges a gap between basic research concerning cellular copper homeostasis and application of this knowledge. It demonstrates that the use of copper-containing alloys may limit the spread of multiple drug-resistant bacteria in hospitals.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Copper / toxicity*
  • Disinfection / methods
  • Environmental Microbiology*
  • Hospitals
  • Microbial Viability / drug effects*


  • Copper