Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, Vol.91, No.2, 237-249, 2011
Advantages and challenges of increased antimicrobial copper use and copper mining
Copper is a highly utilized metal for electrical, automotive, household objects, and more recently as an effective antimicrobial surface. Copper-containing solutions applied to fruits and vegetables can prevent bacterial and fungal infections. Bacteria, such as Salmonellae and Cronobacter sakazakii, often found in food contamination, are rapidly killed on contact with copper alloys. The antimicrobial effectiveness of copper alloys in the healthcare environment against bacteria causing hospital-acquired infections such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Clostridium difficile has been described recently. The use of copper and copper-containing materials will continue to expand and may lead to an increase in copper mining and production. However, the copper mining and manufacturing industry and the consumer do not necessarily enjoy a favorable relationship. Open pit mining, copper mine tailings, leaching products, and deposits of toxic metals in the environment often raises concerns and sometimes public outrage. In addition, consumers may fear that copper alloys utilized as antimicrobial surfaces in food production will lead to copper toxicity in humans. Therefore, there is a need to mitigate some of the negative effects of increased copper use and copper mining. More thermo-tolerant, copper ion-resistant microorganisms could improve copper leaching and lessen copper groundwater contamination. Copper ion-resistant bacteria associated with plants might be useful in biostabilization and phytoremediation of copper-contaminated environments. In this review, recent progress in microbiological and biotechnological aspects of microorganisms in contact with copper will be presented and discussed, exploring their role in the improvement for the industries involved as well as providing better environmental outcomes.