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How ultraviolet light can be used to destroy COVID-19

Recent research has made a significant advancement in the fight against COVID-19, particularly in disinfecting surfaces contaminated with the virus, using ultraviolet light.

This study, conducted by the University of Southampton, delves into the potential of using light, specifically ultraviolet laser light, to eradicate infectious coronavirus particles, including those of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The structure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is complex, consisting of nucleic acid chains that hold the virus’s genetic information, encased in a lipid membrane adorned with protein spikes. Each of these components plays a crucial role in the virus’s ability to infect hosts.

How to kill COVID-19 with ultraviolet light

In their research, the Southampton team, under the leadership of Professor Sumeet Mahajan, collaborated with M Squared Lasers.

They explored how different wavelengths of ultraviolet laser light impact the virus’s critical components.

By utilizing specialized ultraviolet lasers at 266nm and 227nm wavelengths, they were able to observe the distinct effects of light on the virus’s genomic material and protein spikes.

Their findings revealed that the virus’s genetic material is highly susceptible to degradation under UV light.

Notably, the protein spikes, vital for the virus to bind to human cells, lost their binding capability when exposed to this light.

This degradation was primarily due to the breakdown of disulphide bonds and aromatic amino acids in the spikes.

Effects of different UV lights

UV light, comprising UVA, UVB, and UVC types, has varying effects on the virus. Interestingly, the lesser-known UVC light, particularly below 280nm, which hardly reaches the earth’s surface from the sun, was used in this study for its disinfectant properties.

UVC light is readily absorbed by viral components, allowing for targeted degradation. The team found that 266nm light was effective in damaging the virus’s RNA and spike protein structure, while 227nm light was more efficient in protein damage through oxidation, unfolding the protein’s structure.

The significance of this research is heightened by the fact that SARS-CoV-2 has one of the largest genomes among RNA viruses, making it particularly vulnerable to genomic damage.

Professor Mahajan emphasized the potential of light-based deactivation methods. He explained, “Light deactivation of airborne viruses offers a versatile tool for disinfection of our public spaces and sensitive equipment that may otherwise prove difficult to decontaminate with conventional methods. Now we understand the differential sensitivity of molecular components in viruses to light deactivation this opens up the possibility of a finely tuned disinfection technology.”

In summary, this study marks an important step forward. The mechanism of exactly how ultraviolet light can be used to kill COVID-19 is now better understood, paving the way for developing more effective disinfection technologies.

This is especially true in scenarios where conventional liquid-based methods are not suitable. The research provides insights into the vulnerability of viruses to light while exploring new methods of disinfection technologies, potentially revolutionizing our approach to combating infectious diseases.

The full study was published in the journal ACS Photonics.


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