Characteristics of the copper-induced viable-but-non-culturable state in bacteria.

Affiliation

Maertens L(1)(2), Matroule JY(2), Van Houdt R(3).
Author information:
(1)Microbiology Unit, Interdisciplinary Biosciences, Belgian Nuclear Research Centre
(SCK CEN), Mol, Belgium.
(2)Research Unit in Microorganisms Biology
(URBM), Narilis Institute, University of Namur, Namur, Belgium.
(3)Microbiology Unit, Interdisciplinary Biosciences, Belgian Nuclear Research Centre
(SCK CEN), Mol, Belgium. [Email]

Abstract

The antimicrobial applications of copper (Cu) are exploited in several industries, such as agriculture and healthcare settings. While Cu is capable of efficiently killing microorganisms, sub-lethal doses can induce a viable-but-non-culturable (VBNC) state in bacteria of many distinct clades. VBNC cells cannot be detected by standard culture-based detection methods, and can become a threat to plants and animals as they often retain virulent traits upon resuscitation. Here we discuss the putative mechanisms of the Cu-induced VBNC state. Common observations in Cu-induced VBNC cells include a cellular response to reactive oxygen species, the exhaustion of energy reserves, and a reconfiguration of the proteome. While showing partial overlap with other VBNC state-inducing stressors, these changes seem to be part of an adaptive response to Cu toxicity. Furthermore, we argue that Cu resistance mechanisms such as P-type ATPases and multicopper oxidases may ward off entry into the VBNC state to some extent. The spread of these mechanisms across multi-species populations could increase population-level resistance to Cu antimicrobials. As Cu resistance mechanisms are often co-selected with antibiotic resistance mechanisms, this threat is exacerbated.