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How Do Microbes Build Resistance to Metals?


Jeff Boyd, PhD, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, explains the metal-resistance processes of microbes.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability).

“How do microbes acquire resistance or build resistance to metals, or copper specifically?  Well there [are] a number of different mechanisms. Remember, copper, if it gets inside the cell, it becomes highly toxic. It also likes to interact with the membrane, which is on the outside of the cell.

Not surprisingly, microbes have evolved the mechanisms to be able to prevent [copper] from getting inside of the cell. [Microbes] can produce proteins on the outside of the cell which will bind copper and disallow it from interacting with the membrane itself. If [copper] does get inside the cell, there [are] small proteins [that] can bind that copper, buffer it, sequester it, and not allow it to interact with different cellular macromolecules.

Another mechanism is, if copper is in the cytosol, [microbes] can produce pumps that’ll pump that copper outside of the cell. The addition of all of these different [mechanisms], the addition of buffering the cytosol, preventing copper from interacting with macromolecules, pumping copper to the outside of the cell if it does get in the cell, and binding the copper so [that] it can’t interact with the membrane, can prevent the organism from succumbing to a copper intoxication.”
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