The highly synergistic, broad spectrum, antibacterial activity of organic acids and transition metals

Sci Rep. 2017 Mar 15;7:44554. doi: 10.1038/srep44554.


For millennia, transition metals have been exploited to inhibit bacterial growth. We report here the potentiation of the anti-bacterial activity of transition metals by organic acids. Strong synergy between low, non-toxic concentrations of transition metals and organic acids was observed with up to ~1000-fold higher inhibitory effect on bacterial growth. We show that organic acids shuttle transition metals through the permeability barrier of the bacterial membrane, leading to increased influx of transition metals into bacterial cells. We demonstrate that this synergy can be effectively used to inhibit the growth of a broad range of plant and human bacterial pathogens, and suggest that a revision of food preservation and crop protection strategies may be in order. These findings bear significant biomedical, agricultural, financial and environmental opportunities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acids / chemistry
  • Acids / pharmacology
  • Agriculture
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / chemistry
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Bacteria / drug effects*
  • Drug Hypersensitivity*
  • Humans
  • Organic Chemicals / chemistry
  • Organic Chemicals / pharmacology
  • Plants / drug effects*
  • Transition Elements / chemistry
  • Transition Elements / pharmacology*


  • Acids
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Transition Elements