Release of metal ions from metal-based surfaces has been considered one of the main drivers of their antimicrobial activity. Here we describe a method that enables parallel assessment of metal ion release from solid metallic surfaces and antimicrobial efficacy of these surfaces in a short time period. The protocol involves placement of a small volume of bioluminescent bacteria onto the tested surface and direct measurement of bioluminescence at various time points. In this study, two recombinant Escherichia coli strains, one expressing bioluminescence constitutively and applicable for general antimicrobial testing, and the other induced by Cu ions, were selected. Decrease in bioluminescence of constitutive E. coli on the surfaces showed a good correlation with the decrease in bacterial viability. Response of Cu-inducible E. coli showed a correlation with Cu content in the tested surfaces but not with Cu dissolution suggesting the role of direct bacteria-surface contact in Cu ion-driven antibacterial effects. In summary, the presented protocol enables the analysis of microbial toxicity and bioavailability of surface-released metal ions directly on solid surfaces within 30–60 min. Although optimized for copper and copper alloy surfaces and E. coli, the method can be extended to other types of metallic surfaces and bacterial strains.
Article author: Charles William Keevil, University of Southampton