What Can Be Done to Combat Heavy Metal Resistance in Microbes?

Jeff Boyd, PhD, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, discusses how to combat copper and heavy metal resistance.

Jeff Boyd, PhD, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, discusses how to combat copper and heavy metal resistance.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability).

“One interesting thing about copper resistance, or I should just say, heavy metal resistance in general, in microbes, is that a lot of times the genes that encode for this heavy metal, or copper resistance, are on the same mobile genetic elements that encode for things like methicillin-resistance. So, by treating with methicillin, selecting for a population that’s then resistant to methicillin, you actually enrich the genes for copper resistance.

Ultimately in the long run, you could probably design a drug, or someone could design a drug, to inhibit one of these copper detoxification mechanisms [and] you could use a drug that doesn’t co-select for copper resistance. If you know that treating with methicillin also selects for copper resistance, you could treat with another drug and hope that that doesn’t select for copper resistance.

But overall, I don’t think that there’s really a clear answer as to how you can go about preventing the acquisition, or I should say the detoxification, of copper itself. The microbes are pretty good at this. I will say, though, that they still do die if they are on a copper surface. [Therefore], although these copper detoxification systems might help [microbes] survive within the human body, remember, we use copper as well as an antimicrobial, [which are] not very effective at preventing or allowing survival on solid copper surfaces.”