What Is The Most Numerous Animal On The Planet?
You might have thought it was sheep but the answer is something quite unexpected, and virtually invisible.1
Nematodes are roundworms, tiny simple animals that inhabit nearly every corner of the earth from deep ocean trenches to topsoils, and everywhere humans inhabit.2
Highly adaptable they can be predators, foragers, or parasites, and inhabit almost every ecological niche possible.3 Mostly, nematodes are harmless and play an important role in nutrient cycling in the ocean and on land.5
As parasites, they are an unfortunate fact of life for all species of plants, animals, insects, and people. While not as infamous as bacteria or viruses, nematodes are parasites that exist in almost every species.
At the moment copper is gathering quite a reputation for it’s antibacterial and anti-viral properties. Now the question is being asked can copper also help reduce the damage caused by nematode infections that are commonplace in agriculture, livestock and humans?
Nematodes in agriculture are responsible for damaging the roots of tomato plants, onions, legumes, fruit trees, and lettuce crops.4 It is estimated nematodes are responsible for 15% of crop damage every year globally, which means billions of dollars in economic losses.5
Copper-iron nanoparticles were shown to paralyze and kill root-knot nematodes in tomato plants while increasing plant growth.6 Interestingly, copper is an important trace element and always present in healthy soil that supports vibrant plant growth.
Copper Is A Safe Nematicide Alternative
It’s important to always consider how the use of nematicides affects the environment and our health.
Potentially, copper particles could be added to the soil as a nematicide and a viable and safe alternative to conventional nematicides.6
This is a promising area of research considering that some synthetic (non-organic) nematicides have proven to be so toxic to humans they were banned in Europe.7
Nematodes are also very destructive in sheep and cattle.8 In one study, a supplement of copper with selenium was administered to infected sheep and shown to support the herd’s immune system to fight off the nematode infestation.9
One major concern with any treatment protocol is the issue of parasites that survive a nematicide treatment will reproduce new strains more resistant to future nematicide treatment.
While it’s not known the exact mechanism by which copper is an effective nematicide, it is understood with regards to bacteria and viruses, copper destroys the DNA on contact, and therefore prevents the possibility of resistant strains mutating.10
If copper proves to be an effective treatment against nematodes, it would be a significant breakthrough in agriculture, animal husbandry and our health care.
Currently, there aren’t any medications containing bioavailable copper designed to counteract nematode infections in humans.
One advantage of using copper in medication is, given in the correct dose, copper can be utilised by the human body with nutritional benefit, and without side effects11
The humble metal copper has especially attracted attention in recent times for use as a passive disinfectant material as touch surfaces in hospitals. This has encouraged more research on the subject of its potential in other medical applications.
Copper is an important element in many biological processes. Combined with its ability to destroy microbe DNA in bacteria and viruses that could otherwise develop resistance to other disinfectant protocols, copper is also a promising element to explore in the development as a nematicide.
10. Warnes, S. L., et al. “Biocidal Efficacy of Copper Alloys against Pathogenic Enterococci Involves Degradation of Genomic and Plasmid DNAs.” Applied and Environmental Microbiology 76.16 (2010): 5390-401. Web. 30 June 2020. <www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2918949/>.
Author: Kristine Wagner MHS, CPH
Kristine holds a Master of Health Science in Environmental Health and a Certificate in Risk Science from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is a Certified in Public Health Professional by the NBPHE.
She was an ASPPH Strategic Information Fellow at the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda supporting HIV/AIDS programs in conjunction with the CDC. She also worked as a health scientist at Cardno ChemRisk.
As a student, she conducted environmental health research related to oil development in the Ecuadorian Amazon and wrote her graduate thesis on drinking water contamination from hydraulic fracturing.
She is a professional scuba diving instructor (PADI MSDT) and has worked as a diver in Mexico, Thailand, and Turks & Caicos. She also speaks Spanish and French.