Biocidal efficacy of copper alloys against pathogenic enterococci involves degradation of genomic and plasmid DNAs

Appl Environ Microbiol. 2010 Aug;76(16):5390-401. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03050-09. Epub 2010 Jun 25.


The increasing incidence of nosocomial infections caused by glycopeptide-resistant enterococci is a global concern. Enterococcal species are also difficult to eradicate with existing cleaning regimens; they can survive for long periods on surfaces, thus contributing to cases of reinfection and spread of antibiotic-resistant strains. We have investigated the potential use of copper alloys as bactericidal surfaces. Clinical isolates of vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis and Enterococcus faecium were inoculated onto copper alloy and stainless steel surfaces. Samples were assessed for the presence of viable cells by conventional culture, detection of actively respiring cells, and assessment of cell membrane integrity. Both species survived for up to several weeks on stainless steel. However, no viable cells were detected on any alloys following exposure for 1 h at an inoculum concentration of <or=10(4) CFU/cm(2). Analysis of genomic and plasmid DNA from bacterial cells recovered from metal surfaces indicates substantial disintegration of the DNA following exposure to copper surfaces that is not evident in cells recovered from stainless steel. The DNA fragmentation is so extensive, and coupled with the rapid cell death which occurs on copper surfaces, that it suggests that mutation is less likely to occur. It is therefore highly unlikely that genetic information can be transferred to receptive organisms recontaminating the same area. A combination of effective cleaning regimens and contact surfaces containing copper could be useful not only to prevent the spread of viable pathogenic enterococci but also to mitigate against the occurrence of potential resistance to copper, biocides, or antibiotics and the spread of genetic determinants of resistance to other species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alloys / pharmacology*
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Copper / pharmacology*
  • DNA Fragmentation
  • DNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • DNA, Bacterial / metabolism*
  • Disinfectants / pharmacology*
  • Enterococcus faecalis / drug effects*
  • Enterococcus faecalis / growth & development
  • Enterococcus faecalis / isolation & purification
  • Enterococcus faecalis / metabolism
  • Enterococcus faecium / drug effects*
  • Enterococcus faecium / growth & development
  • Enterococcus faecium / isolation & purification
  • Enterococcus faecium / metabolism
  • Genome, Bacterial
  • Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Microbial Viability / drug effects
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Plasmids
  • Vancomycin Resistance


  • Alloys
  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Disinfectants
  • Copper