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TWiM 73 Letters

Mark writes:

Hello Team TWiM,

I’ve followed with interest your coverage of Michael’s research into use of copper to fight hospital infection. Of all the interesting papers covered in 2013, I think the one most actionable is episode 55, The Copper Room. His research, described in that and prior shows, addresses an under-reported aspect of our health care system. Hospital acquired infections are a serious matter of which I am especially mindful as I prepare for surgery later this month. Kudos to Professor Michael Schmidt for proving how a relatively simple change of hospital materials can have a huge impact on improving patient health and outcomes.

Let me share some news, and ask follow-up questions.

Monday, 1/6/14, at the Consumer Electronics Show, Corning Inc introduced a new line of “Gorilla Glass” that it claims is the "World’s First Antimicrobial Cover Glass”. Links with information:

— press release:

— video releases:

Corning is positioning the product for touch-based mobile devices to combat bacteriological growth and spread of disease. We have all have seen phones whose surfaces are, in plain speech, gross, disgusting and covered with layers of schmutz. TWiM listeners would call such objects “fomites” to use a polite, abstracted, and neutral term.

Here come my questions ….

1. Corning highlights the use of “ionic silver” as the antimicrobial agent in its new glass. Silver, Ag, is in the same column and one row below copper, Cu, in the Periodic Table. Below silver is gold, Au. Do I recall my chemistry correctly in that each has the same number of valence electrons? If this is true, can Michael or other hosts compare-and-contrast how Cu/Ag/Au vary in effectivity killing bacteria? Besides economics, is any of those metals a preferred choice for bacterial killing agent? Why, or why not? Is the preference related to their increasing conductiveness as you descend rows in the Periodic Table?

This question is truly cutting edge… I call your attention to

2. Would you describe in more detail the mechanism by which copper’s valence electrons kills bacteria?

3. What impact does copper have on neutralizing viruses and their ability to spread? I use “neutralizing” because you can’t kill a non-living virus. Do you agree with this phrasing?

Wishing all of you the best in 2014.


PS - the weather. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area the weather these past few days was mostly sunny, with highs in the mid-60’s and lows in the mid-40’s. This east coast refugee empathizes with easterners like TWiM’s Michiganders, Carolinians, Jerseyites, or his brother out on Long Island who have been experiencing extreme cold with daily highs in the low-teens. Only Elio’s San Diego has better weather as I write this.

CN writes:

Greetings Vincent and Team,

On the foremost, thank you for your excellent educast. Your podcasts has helped me generate and understand a lot of ideas which i would have never accomplished had it not been for your podcast. I have just joined, Dept of Neuro-Microbiology, NIMHANS, Bangalore, India as a PhD scholar. Maybe i can consider it a TWiX bump.

The issue of Health Care associated infection has come up, multiple times in your podcast. I have a query in connection with the same.

Hospital environment harbors microbes usually of MDR type. The ones commonly involved in Nosocomial infections are often environment and antibiotic resistant types. There is a very limited scope of competition from harmless and less robust environmental flora. I'm curious if we could (theoretically at least) introduce environmental flora into hospital regularly, which would then reduce hospital acquired infections. Just a wandering thought.

I always have wondered why doesn’t TWiM have Pick of the week. Keep up your excellent work. Never ever stop TWiX.

A yet another TWiX Podcast fan.

Mark writes:

Hi Vincent, Elio, Michael and friends,

Firstly, thanks for the show. It regularly blows my mind, and keeps me very engaged during the otherwise cold and rainy walks into work. Keeping up with each episode has very much broadened my mind to microbiological topics that I wouldn’t have come across otherwise, which has in turn enriched my own thinking and work.

In the fascinating TWiM 68 ‘The Fungus Among Us,’ Elio questioned the existence of uninhabited aqueous environments. I know of two naturally occurring habitats on the earth that are most probably functionally sterile (that is, supporting no active growth). These are Discovery Basin in the deep Mediterranean and Don Juan Pond in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, Antarctica. Both of these are extremely concentrated brines, where the main salt is not NaCl, but MgCl2 (in the case of Discovery Basin) and CaCl2 (in Don Juan). Previous studies report DNA sequences from Discovery basin, but the current thought is that these originate from organisms that live above the seawater/brine interface and have simply sunk into it. mRNA has not been successfully recovered, suggesting that there is no active life. Exactly what property of the brine precludes life is not fully understood; it could be either the dramatically low water activity (availability of free water) or the chaotropic, disruptive effect MgCl2 has on biological macromolecules. Check out this paper which discusses support for a chaotropic barrier to life:

Don Juan is a particularly fascinating place, as it never freezes over despite experiencing temperatures down to -40oC. There is much less published biological data on this environment (none with molecular tools), but it is more chaotropic and more concentrated than Discovery brine, and most microbiologists who work with Dry Valleys lakes consider it a sterile environment. These environments are particularly interesting because of the current paradigm (in astrobiology) of liquid water being the holy grail for habitability, and yet even on the earth there are (albeit rare) examples of aqueous environments that may fundamentally preclude life.

On a different note, I thought you might all enjoy this paper exploring some of the novelties of haloarchaeal genome replication:

I was reminded of it by your discussion of horizontal gene transfer in the archaea. It’s a really nice study and highlights how different and interesting these organisms are when compared to bacteria or eukaryotes. The authors hint toward some profound evolutionary implications in the discussion.

Apologies for the ramblings, and thanks again for all the inspiring discussions.

Best wishes,


Mark Fox-Powell
UK Centre for Astrobiology
School of Physics and Astronomy
The University of Edinburgh

Bradley writes:

If you can find the backstory to this, it would be an interesting TWiM:

"Passenger with possible TB infection pulled from plane"


Nathen writes:

Hello TWIM-ers,
A friend of mine just posted this question on tumblr and I thought you all would be the perfect people to address it:

Question of the day: A strain of Flavobacterium (KI72) evolved the capacity to digest nylon, obviously in recent history. Fine and well. How long will it be until one of the cariogenic bacteria species evolves the ability to digest dental resin? After all, we are putting a lot of it on their dinner table.

Original Article:

Darcie writes:

Hi, great podcast. I just wanted to let you all know that stool taking "the shape of the container" isn't a British-ism. I work in the Micro department of a hospital/reference lab and we use this criteria on a daily basis when testing for C Diff. Specimens that are too formed must be rejected for testing, and we've had many discussions about what makes a stool formed or not; the criteria "takes the shape of the container" has turned out to be the best way to decide if we will reject a specimen or not.

Jesper writes:

Dear Magiis of the Microbes,

In the news here in Sweden there are unfortunately many reports about the spread of C Difficile, and we've had a few deaths as well. Remembering Michaels research about copper surfacing as a means to reduce harmful microbes in hospital settings, it may be of interest to learn that a study has been conducted here to show that using Chlorine and a detailed cleaning protocol reduced infections by 50%. I have not found the publication, but here is (in Swedish) the protocol recommended: Essentially they swipe all surfaces with Chlorine.

Here is another article about the research in a Swedish medical Journal:

I do not want to make the impression it was unknown that chlorine is effective as an antibacterial. CDC knew this (

Thank you all for a very interesting pod cast!

Software Engineer




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