Covid-19 response

Unlocking virus’ chemistry may help reduce spread

Ways in which the virus that causes Covid-19 reacts to different environments and surfaces – such as cardboard and copper – could be key to reducing transmission and developing a vaccine, a study says.

Scientists are calling for urgent research in this area after a theoretical study highlighted the importance of environmental conditions including temperature, humidity and pH in determining whether SARS-CoV-2 lives or dies.

Surface chemistry

Understanding the behaviour and molecular interactions of the virus with different surfaces is vital because how it is absorbs onto solid surfaces can play a critical role in its transmission and survival, experts say.

Previous studies revealed that SARS-CoV-2 – the complex virus that causes COVID-19 – can be found on various indoor surfaces in contaminated areas, including in clinical settings

A theoretical study was led by the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, TÜV SÜD UK National Engineering Laboratory and Michigan Tech's Health Research Institute.

Scientists used theoretical analyses and experimental techniques to examine how the molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2 potentially interacts with stainless steel, copper, plastic and cardboard and which surfaces affect the virus' survival.

If the surface is not friendly, it’s easier for the virus to fall apart.  Where the virus has more friendly interactions with the surface, it’s more likely to stay infectious.  “We are told to wash our hands for 20 seconds because during this time the soap interacts with the surface chemistry of a virus and essentially makes it explode! Increased research in this area will better equip us to diminish how long viruses survive on surfaces, an important way to stop the spread.

Professor Caryn HeldtDirector, Health Research Institute, Michigan Technological University

Environmental conditions

The research also highlighted how environmental conditions affect the SARS-CoV-2 virus’s absorption and stability. Temperature and humidity were found to have a significant effect on the virus’ virility, researchers suggest.

Aliakbar Hassanpouryouzband, a postdoctoral research associate from the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh, said:

For the first time, we have explored the potential mechanisms of the novel SARS-CoV-2 surface stability in various environmental conditions, including temperature and relative humidity. Based on the findings of this research governments could develop new measures for reducing virus transmission through decreasing humidity of indoor environments such as homes, restaurants, and hospitals including using dehumidifiers, especially when more than 2 households are within that environment.

Aliakbar HassanpouryouzbandPostdoctoral research associate, School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh

The study concluded that different surface and environmental conditions are crucial considerations in building a fundamental understanding of SARS-CoV-2’s transmission and improving safety practices indoors.

Edris Joonaki, fluid properties expert at TÜV SÜD UK National Engineering Laboratory, said:

We hope that this paper will assist experimental scientists worldwide in their investigations for unravelling the molecular drivers implicated in this new coronavirus transmission from the surfaces as well as in vaccine development and antiviral drug design.

Dr Edris JoonakiFluid properties expert , TÜV SÜD UK National Engineering Laboratory

The paper was published in the cell press journal Chem.

Related links

Journal paper 

School of GeoSciences 

Health Research Institute, Michigan Technological University  

TÜV SÜD UK National Engineering Laboratory