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How do Silver Ions Kill Bacteria?

JP Buntinx
July 27, 2020

There are many benefits to silver outside of the current price trend. For instance, scientists have been looking for ways to harness the metal as a weapon against microbes. In this stage of the coronavirus pandemic, that may be something to keep an eye on.

Silver Kills Bacteria

For decades, it has been known that silver is a prominent antimicrobial. It can effectively kill off a lot of bacteria, fungi, and even certain viruses. All of this is made possible thanks to the positively charged silver ions found within this metal. More specifically, these ions can target microorganisms in a variety of ways.

One option is to insert silver ions into the bacterial cell membrane and have it bind to membrane proteins. In doing so, the transport of substance to and from the bacterial cells is cut off completely. A very ingenious way of getting rid of harmful cells, although it is not an approach that works for everything either. 

In the medical sector, silver has been used in wound care for decades. It is primarily used in wound dressings, as it helps clean out the wound and allow for it to recover bacteria-free. Putting the human boy into close contact with silver is not a problem either. Our bodies can excrete the silver in feces and urine without any major side effects. 

The growing use of antibiotics has had an impact on the use of silver in the medical sector. Although they can both complement one another, it is far more common to use actual medication rather than precious metals to cure bacterial diseases these days. For wound infection, on the other hand, silver containing dressings will continue to play a major role for the foreseeable future.

Further Study is Needed

One recent study shows how the antimicrobial properties of silver work exactly. Researchers at the University of Arkansas want to gain more insights as to how this process works. By investigating a particular protein found in E. coli bacteria, some surprising results were discovered.

Contrary to expectations, silver ions will not slow down the dynamics of this protein. Instead, it speeds them up. This is a beneficial effect as the accelerated separation of paired DNA stands causes the binding between the DNA and protein to weaken. 

The findings of this particular study confirm how little science knows about the workings of silver ions. That also means there may be far more interesting use cases waiting to be unlocked. While it may not be of much help to fight the coronavirus, there can be numerous other applications for silver ions in the medicinal world. 

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