Cobalt and Health

Cobalt also contributes to the quality of life by maintaining and improving our health.

Cobalt is a bioessential element and, being found at the centre of vitamin B12, is needed for healthy red blood cell formation and neurological health in humans.

When combined with chrome, cobalt is also utilised in prosthetic alloys such as hip and knee replacements. Man-made radioactive isotopes of cobalt are also central to diagnosing pernicious anaemia and treating certain cancers.

The use of cobalt in fermentation processes is also central in producing biomolecules used in a variety of different roles in modern medicine.


Cobalt is used as an essential element in cell culture media. Due to the bioessentiality of cobalt, the metal cannot be substituted for other compounds. As well as being essential for humans in the form of vitamin B12, cobalt is important for nitrogen fixation by free-living bacteria, blue-green algae and symbiotic systems. Cobalt also has a role in the metabolism of methanogenic bacteria which are one of the oldest organisms on the earth.

Fermentation is used to grow large colonies of microrganisms on a growth medium often with the aim of producing chemical or bio-active products.

Sardines, source of vitamin B12
As well as being essential for humans in the form of vitamin B12, cobalt is important for nitrogen fixation

Cobalt’s role in the growth and metabolism of microrganisms, is therefore important for the process of fermentation which is in turn essential for the production of biomolecules used in active pharmaceutical ingredients (API), tools for analysis, purifications and process development of API, production of antigens and antibodies and diagnostic devices.

By adding cobalt salts such as cobalt dichloride to a culturing media, bacterial growth and the production of organic biomolecules is stimulated. Therapeutic peptides, antigens, antibodies, single-cell proteins, vitamins, enzymes and antibiotics are all examples of biomolecules that are produced by bacteria.

The fermentation process, where cobalt is an essential component, produces important biomolecules utilised in many medical applications.

The biomolecules produced by bacteria can be used in important and innovative medical technologies and treatments. For example, auto-immune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis use pharmaceutical products derived by the fermentation process. The expression of viral antigens within cell culture media is also vital to produce vaccines which provide immunity to many potentially fatal diseases including small pox, rubella and meningococcal disease.

The diagnosis of many diseases and disorders is conducted using in-vitro diagnostics (IVD). IVD’s provide medically useful diagnostic information by examination of a specimen derived from the human body (EDMA). For many diagnostic applications monoclonal antibodies, a biomolecule produced from the fermentation process, are necessary for detection purposes.

Furthermore, in some cases, cobalt dichloride can be used to direct the synthesis of different forms of active biomolecule or discourage the production of other by-products created in the fermentation process.

Total use of cobalt in fermentation processes is less than 2% of annual consumption and cobalt is not found in the final products.