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{{PsyPerspective} Copper (pronounced /ˈkɒpɚ/) is a chemical element with the symbol Cu (Latin: cuprum ) and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with excellent electrical conductivity, and finds extensive use as an electrical conductor, heat conductor, as a building material, and as a component of various alloys.

Copper is an essential trace nutrient to all animals including humans. It is found primarily in the bloodstream, as a co-factor in various enzymes, and in copper-based pigments. However, in sufficient amounts, copper can be poisonous and even fatal to organisms.

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Biomedical applications Edit


Biological role Edit

File:ARS copper rich foods.jpg

Copper is essential in all plants and animals. Copper is carried mostly in the bloodstream on a plasma protein called ceruloplasmin. When copper is first absorbed in the gut it is transported to the liver bound to albumin. Copper is found in a variety of enzymes, including the copper centers of cytochrome c oxidase and the enzyme superoxide dismutase (containing copper and zinc). In addition to its enzymatic roles, copper is used for biological electron transport. The blue copper proteins that participate in electron transport include azurin and plastocyanin. The name "blue copper" comes from their intense blue color arising from a ligand-to-metal charge transfer (LMCT) absorption band around 600 nm.

Most molluscs and some arthropods such as the horseshoe crab use the copper-containing pigment hemocyanin rather than iron-containing hemoglobin for oxygen transport, so their blood is blue when oxygenated rather than red.[1]

It is believed that zinc and copper compete for absorption in the digestive tract so that a diet that is excessive in one of these minerals may result in a deficiency in the other. The RDA for copper in normal healthy adults is 0.9 mg/day. On the other hand, professional research on the subject recommends 3.0 mg/day.[2] Because of its role in facilitating iron uptake, copper deficiency can often produce anemia-like symptoms. In humans, the symptoms of Wilson's disease are caused by an accumulation of copper in body tissues.

Toxicity Edit

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Thirty grams of copper sulfate is potentially lethal in humans[How to reference and link to summary or text][dubious]. The suggested safe level of copper in drinking water for humans varies depending on the source, but tends to be pegged at 1.5 to 2 mg/L[How to reference and link to summary or text]. The DRI Tolerable Upper Intake Level for adults of dietary copper from all sources is 10 mg/day[How to reference and link to summary or text]. In toxicity, copper can inhibit the enzyme dihydrophil hydratase, an enzyme involved in haemopoiesis[citations needed]

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Symptoms of copper poisoning are very similar to those produced by arsenic. Fatal cases are generally terminated by convulsions, palsy, and insensibility.[citations needed]


In cases of suspected copper poisoning, Ovalbumin is to be administered in either of its forms which can be most readily obtained, as milk or whites of eggs. Vinegar should not be given. The inflammatory symptoms are to be treated on general principles, and so are the nervous.[citations needed]


A significant portion of the toxicity of copper comes from its ability to accept and donate single electrons as it changes oxidation state. This catalyzes the production of very reactive radical ions such as hydroxyl radical in a manner similar to Fenton chemistry.[3] This catalytic activity of copper is used by the enzymes that it is associated with and is thus only toxic when unsequestered and unmediated. This increase in unmediated reactive radicals is generally termed oxidative stress and is an active area of research in a variety of diseases where copper may play an important but more subtle role than in acute toxicity.

An inherited condition called Wilson's disease causes the body to retain copper, since it is not excreted by the liver into the bile. This disease, if untreated, can lead to brain and liver damage. In addition, studies have found that people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia had heightened levels of copper in their systems. However it is unknown at this stage whether the copper contributes to the mental illness, whether the body attempts to store more copper in response to the illness, or whether the high levels of copper are the result of the mental illness.[citations needed]


Too much copper in water has also been found to damage marine life. The observed effect of these higher concentrations on fish and other creatures is damage to gills, liver, kidneys, and the nervous system. It also interferes with the sense of smell in fish, thus preventing them from choosing good mates or finding their way to mating areas.[citations needed]


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See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Horseshoe Crab Fun Facts NOAA and Univ. of Delaware
  2. National Research Council. Copper. In: Recommended Dietary Allowances. Washington, D.C.: Food Nutrition Board, NRC/NAS, 1980: 151-154.
  3. Held KD et al. (May 1996). Role of Fenton chemistry in thiol-induced toxicity and apoptosis. Radiat Res. 145 (5): 542–53.

Further readingEdit


External linksEdit

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