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posted by martyb on Tuesday December 14 2021, @08:14AM   Printer-friendly
from the really-cleaning-up dept.

New copper surface eliminates bacteria in just two minutes, scientists report:

A new copper surface that kills bacteria more than 100 times faster and more effectively than standard copper could help combat the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

The new copper product is the result of a collaborative research project with RMIT University[*] and Australia's national science agency, CSIRO[**], with findings just published in Biomaterials.

Copper has long been used to fight different strains of bacteria, including the commonly found golden staph, because the ions released from the metal's surface are toxic to bacterial cells.

But this process is slow when standard copper is used, as RMIT University's Distinguished Professor Ma Qian explained, and significant efforts are underway by researchers worldwide to speed it up.

"A standard copper surface will kill about 97% of golden staph within four hours," Qian said.

"Incredibly, when we placed golden staph bacteria on our specially-designed copper surface, it destroyed more than 99.99% of the cells in just two minutes."

"So not only is it more effective, it's 120 times faster."

[*] RMIT: Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
[**] CSIRO: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

Journal Reference:
J.L. Smith, N. Tran, T. Song, D. Liang, M. Qian. Robust bulk micro-nano hierarchical copper structures possessing exceptional bactericidal efficacy. Biomaterials, 2022; 280: 121271 DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2021.121271


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @09:21AM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @09:21AM (#1204914)

    Once upon the time, we had copper water pipes in the house. Now with the plastic crap, I wonder how long until we see diseases that start to come back because of stale water in the pipes. Like go on vacation, win water-born disease on return home?

    • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @05:22PM (2 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @05:22PM (#1205014)

      The thing is copper is toxic (hence the anti-microbial properties), so the water usually has an additive that prevents it from affecting the water (same one that prevents lead pipes from poisoning water).

      So, I am kind of doubting that the copper pipes actually help all that much as the water creates a protective layer to prevent the copper (or lead) from the pipes from leaching into the water.

      If you want to know more about it just look at some of the articles about Flint MI. The issue there was caused by switching water supplies and not compensating for the difference in water by adjusting the amount of this additive to... add, because... money.

      https://www.doh.wa.gov/portals/1/Documents/pubs/331-178.pdf [wa.gov]

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by exaeta on Wednesday December 15 2021, @01:50PM

        by exaeta (6957) on Wednesday December 15 2021, @01:50PM (#1205281) Homepage Journal
        This is totally false. Copper is not only non-toxic at low enough doses but actually a necessary micronutrient. Your body can handle quite a bit of excess copper because your kidneys will remove it. Copper toxicity requires a fairly significant amount of copper salt ingestion.
        --
        The Government is a Bird
      • (Score: 2) by exaeta on Wednesday December 15 2021, @01:57PM

        by exaeta (6957) on Wednesday December 15 2021, @01:57PM (#1205284) Homepage Journal
        As small exposures to copper are not toxic, unlike lead, no additive needs to be used for pure copper pipes. Though most copper pipes contain lead. Only in very unusual conditions would copper corrode enough to introduce enough copper to cause a problem. Also, you need to have a medical condition for it to affect you. Most people can tolerate much higher levels than the water regulations allow.
        --
        The Government is a Bird
  • (Score: 1) by pTamok on Tuesday December 14 2021, @12:00PM (6 children)

    by pTamok (3042) on Tuesday December 14 2021, @12:00PM (#1204930)

    The bacteriocidal properties of copper having been known for so long leads me to wonder why hospitals are still build with grab surfaces (door handles and handrails) and push plates that are made of other materials. It seems such a simple win. Many public building used to use bronze and brass for such things. Is it just cost and propensity for being stolen for scrap value that stops them from being used now?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @12:19PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @12:19PM (#1204933)

      Don't copper surfaces have issues with oxidation if not surface treated? I know they purposely let copper roofing oxidate to get that green patina.

    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Immerman on Tuesday December 14 2021, @03:39PM (4 children)

      by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday December 14 2021, @03:39PM (#1204985)

      Oxidation, mostly. And cost - copper is expensive.

      Copper surfaces need to be frequently and thoroughly polished to avoid the buildup of a layer of surface oxidation, which not only looks disgusting, but also destroys the antibacterial properties.

      Compare to stainless steel, which has no antibacterial properties but stays clean-looking (which matters a LOT more to customers' perceptions than the reality does) and can be quickly wiped down with antimicrobial cleaning fluid on a regular basis without fear of damaging it (copper can be pretty reactive with a lot of common cleaning chemicals)

      Meanwhile, if it takes four hours to kill most bacteria, what does copper really buy you in a busy hospital environment? How many thousands of people have touched that surface long before the pathogens you're trying to protect against are killed?

      Now, if this new fast-acting copper surface stands up to long-term wear and tear (and polishing, I assume), then that might well change the balance. I look forward to seeing how this unfolds.

      • (Score: 2, Interesting) by pTamok on Tuesday December 14 2021, @09:52PM (3 children)

        by pTamok (3042) on Tuesday December 14 2021, @09:52PM (#1205126)

        Copper surfaces need to be frequently and thoroughly polished to avoid the buildup of a layer of surface oxidation, which not only looks disgusting, but also destroys the antibacterial properties.

        Really? I thought the anti-microbial effect came from copper ions, which you get equally well from the oxidised layer, which, if I remember correctly, if left alone, eventually turns into verdigris - but I'm willing to be corrected. Have you got a reference/link?

        Wikipedia:Antimicrobial properties of copper [wikipedia.org]
        Antimicrobial copper-alloy touch surfaces [wikipedia.org]

        • (Score: 5, Informative) by Immerman on Tuesday December 14 2021, @11:33PM (2 children)

          by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday December 14 2021, @11:33PM (#1205146)

          It appears I was wrong: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010938X17313963 [sciencedirect.com]

          In my searching it also sounds like the mechanism isn't actually well understood, and that copper is considerably more effective than TFA might suggest - it make take four hours to kill 97% of golden staph, but kills 99.9% of e-coli within 1-2 hours.

          Which pretty much leaves cost and cosmetics as the only redeeming quality of stainless steel, and casts hospitals that don't use copper fixtures in a rather poor light.

          • (Score: 1) by pTamok on Wednesday December 15 2021, @11:25AM (1 child)

            by pTamok (3042) on Wednesday December 15 2021, @11:25AM (#1205263)

            Modded you up. It's rare that people admit they were wrong, so it needs celebrating. I try to set a good example by being quick to admit I'm wrong when I am, but it is often greeted with suspicion.

            As far as I'm concerned, being able to admit that one is wrong is a wonderful thing to be able to do. It indicates an open mind and a commitment to improve. Well done. And I don't mean this in a sarcastic, patronising or dismissive way.

            • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Immerman on Wednesday December 15 2021, @01:56PM

              by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday December 15 2021, @01:56PM (#1205283)

              Thanks, I agree. Any idiot can stick to their guns, but the world is far larger and more complicated than any human mind can encompass, which means all of us are inevitably wrong about things at least as often as we're right.

              The only way things improve is if we strive to expand the realms in which we're right, and stop spreading our mistaken beliefs as soon as we're made aware of them.

  • (Score: 2) by HiThere on Tuesday December 14 2021, @02:15PM (1 child)

    by HiThere (866) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday December 14 2021, @02:15PM (#1204963) Journal

    It's my suspicion that if the copper ions are being released that quickly, the surface will quickly degrade.

    --
    Javascript is what you use to allow unknown third parties to run software you have no idea about on your computer.
    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Tuesday December 14 2021, @03:52PM

      by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday December 14 2021, @03:52PM (#1204990)

      I doubt it degrades nearly as fast from that as from just having the top surface rubbed off whenever anyone touches it. To say nothing of how much is removed every time you polish it. You have to do that frequently with normal copper to remove oxidation and preserve the antimicrobial properties - and I would assume that an intricately micro-sculpted porous copper surface would both oxidize much faster, and be worn down much faster by polishing.

      I'd love to be proven wrong, but at first glance this seems far less practical in the real world than the inventors are hoping.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @02:21PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @02:21PM (#1204965)

    I wonder if a solution of cupric sulphate would make an effective solution. Or is the collateral tradeoffs too onerous?

    Copper solutions taste terrible and seem to last forever if gotten into your hand.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @03:51PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @03:51PM (#1204989)

      Ahhh, pretty bluestone.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by Immerman on Tuesday December 14 2021, @04:03PM (1 child)

      by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday December 14 2021, @04:03PM (#1204995)

      Exactly what problem are you trying to solve? (Mechanical) "surface" and "solution" aren't particularly compatible concepts...

      A layer of solid cupric sulphate on frequently-touched surfaces would probably kill bacteria just fine - but it's a toxic irritant, not something you really want on a surface people are going to be touching.

      Plus, it's highly soluble in water, meaning that it would quickly dissolve into people's sweat on contact, to say nothing of being washed off when cleaning (if nothing else you have to get the layer of accumulated oil and skin-cells off or it shields the bacteria from the surface)

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @04:51PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 14 2021, @04:51PM (#1205003)

        A layer of solid cupric sulphate on frequently-touched surfaces would probably kill bacteria just fine - but it's a toxic irritant, not something you really want on a surface people are going to be touching.

        So cupric sulphate is something I should be putting on the surfaces I want people not to touch. Sounds good. Any suggestions for a remote office door opener so I don't have to touch it either?

  • (Score: 2) by krishnoid on Tuesday December 14 2021, @08:13PM (1 child)

    by krishnoid (1156) on Tuesday December 14 2021, @08:13PM (#1205084)

    Bacteria I can live with (and we all do, really). I'd rather have antiviral surfaces.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Immerman on Tuesday December 14 2021, @11:36PM

      by Immerman (3985) on Tuesday December 14 2021, @11:36PM (#1205147)

      You can (and do) live with virus too. And fungi. 99+% of all microbes are relatively harmless to humans - it's only that last fraction of a percent of any of them that we'd rather avoid.

      But as it happens, copper also has antiviral and antifungal properties. It's apparently pretty unhealthy for virtually all microbes.

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