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The Secrets of the Killing Copper

AereusTechnologies_image_101915If you are even familiar in passing with copper’s antimicrobial properties, you should know that the metal can kill most pathogens on contact. Copper surfaces, when dry, can kill 99.9% of all bacteria within the first hour. This is a remarkable property that Aereus Technologies harnesses to give Aereus Shield™ the ability to protect against healthcare-associated infections.

The reason behind copper’s devastating power is a bit complex. However, this simple metal most known for making pennies and pipes can have a key role in safety. Here’s what you need to know about copper’s antimicrobial properties.

Getting Microscopic

To start understanding how copper can kill bacteria, it helps to know a bit about how atoms work. Elements like copper are made of a stable central nucleus that is surrounded by electrons. Atoms regularly lose and gain electrons through various means, with the process of losing electrons being called “oxidization.” When an element oxidizes, it forms an ion, which basically means an atom or molecule that lacks its normal number of electrons. Since ions want to regain their electrons, they are highly reactive. This makes copper ions more unstable than regular copper and forms the basis of why it can be lethal to bacteria.

Copper oxidation is also known as rusting. In large amounts, this can be a problem, but in small amounts, like the level induced by ordinary air moisture, the oxidation isn’t noticeable to humans. To bacteria, however, the effects are felt quite harshly.

Cellular Mechanics

Cells are, to simplify, globs of fluid and organelles kept intact by a membrane. The cellular membrane maintains its integrity in part due to the electrical current running through it. Copper, being conductive, carries some of this current outside the cell and disrupts the membrane, weakening it. Imagine a membrane to be like a brick wall that is held together by mortar. If the mortar softens, the wall is weakened but does not automatically topple over. The same goes for a cell’s membrane—it is weakened, but that’s not enough to cause a cell to die.

All atoms attempt to become stable through the loss or gain of electrons. When copper ions form, they try to regain their lost electrons by pulling them from the weakened membrane. Now, imagine that you are pulling out bricks from the already weakened wall. Just like this compromises the wall’s structure, pulling electrons from the membrane compromises the membrane’s integrity and causes it to rupture. Without the membrane, the cell will fall apart and die as it loses all nutrients and fluid.

Multiple Killing Pathways

The rupture of the cell membrane is not the only reason behind copper’s antibacterial abilities. Some organisms, for instance, will try to repair the membrane by pulling in materials from its surroundings. When bacteria is on a copper surface, for instance, they pull in copper ions—lots of them. In small amounts, copper is integral to a bacteria. In large amounts, it is highly toxic. Copper ions, as mentioned earlier, are highly reactive. They will flood into the bacteria and bind to whatever they can, such as the enzymes the bacteria needs to process nutrients. This behavior, combined with the loss of nutrients from the ruptured membrane, results in a swift and effective death.

Aereus Technologies is a Canadian biotech company headquartered in Burlington, Ontario. Our research and development into copper alloy-based technology has resulted in the antimicrobial coating, Aereus Shield™. For more information contact us today.

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Michelle Berelowitz

Michelle Berelowitz has 15+ years commercializing technology start-ups in the Toronto-Waterloo corridor with strong strategic, operational and management skills within both publicly traded and technology based start-up companies. Michelle has a background in manufacturing, ICT and biotech combined with degrees in political science, finance &strategic management and Masters of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology from the University of Waterloo.