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Its time for SCIENCE – Deadly viruses are no match for plain, old soap — here’s the science behind it

Soap works better than alcohol and disinfectants at destroying the structure of viruses

Why does soap work so well on the new coronavirus and, indeed, most viruses? Because it is a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer.

That sounds scientific. Let me explain.

Soap dissolves the fat membrane, and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and “dies,” or rather, it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive. Viruses can be active outside the body for hours, even days.

Soap outcompetes the interactions between the virus and the skin surface, and the virus gets detached and falls apart like a house of cards.

Disinfectants, or liquids, wipes, gels and creams containing alcohol (and soap) have a similar effect but are not as good as regular soap. Apart from alcohol and soap, antibacterial agents in those products don’t affect the virus structure much. Consequently, many antibacterial products are basically just an expensive version of soap in how they act on viruses. Soap is the best, but alcohol wipes are good when soap is not practical or handy, for example in office reception areas.

Supramolecular chemistry

But why, exactly, is soap so good? To explain that, I will take you through a journey of supramolecular chemistry, nanoscience and virology. I will try to explain this in generic terms, which means leaving out special chemistry terms. (I must point out that, while I am an expert in supramolecular chemistry and the assembly of nanoparticles, I am not a virologist.)

I have always been fascinated by viruses, as I see them as one of them most spectacular examples of how supramolecular chemistry and nanoscience converge.

Most viruses consist of three key building blocks: RNA, proteins and lipids.The RNA is the viral genetic material — it is similar to DNA. The proteins have several roles, including breaking into the target cell, assisting with virus replication and basically being a key building block (like a brick in a house) in the virus structure.

The lipids then form a coat around the virus, both for protection and to assist with its spread and cellular invasion. The RNA, proteins and lipids self-assemble to form the virus. Critically, there are no strong “covalent” bonds holding these units together.

Instead, the viral self-assembly is based on weak “non-covalent” interactions between the proteins, RNA and lipids. Together, these act together like Velcro, so it is hard to break up the self-assembled viral particle. Still, we can do it — with soap!

Most viruses, including the coronavirus, are between 50-200 nanometers — so they truly are nanoparticles. Nanoparticles have complex interactions with surfaces they are on; it’s the same with viruses. Skin, steel, timber, fabric, paint and porcelain are very different surfaces.

When a virus invades a cell, the RNA “hijacks” the cellular machinery like a computer virus and forces the cell to make fresh copies of its own RNA and the various proteins that make up the virus.

These new RNA and protein molecules self-assemble with lipids (readily present in the cell) to form new copies of the virus. That is, the virus does not photocopy itself; it makes copies of the building blocks, which then self-assemble into new viruses.

All those new viruses eventually overwhelm the cell, and it dies or explodes, releasing viruses that then go on to infect more cells. In the lungs, viruses end up in the airways and mucous membranes.

When you cough, or especially when you sneeze, tiny droplets from the airways can fly up to 30 feet. The larger ones are thought to be main coronavirus carriers, and they can go at least 7 feet. So, cover your coughs and sneezes!

Skin is an ideal surface for viruses

These tiny droplets end up on surfaces and dry out quickly. But the viruses are still active. What happens next is all about supramolecular chemistry and how self-assembled nanoparticles (like the viruses) interact with their environment.

Now it is time to introduce a powerful supramolecular chemistry concept that effectively says: Similar molecules appear to interact more strongly with each other than dissimilar ones. Wood, fabric and skin interact fairly strongly with viruses.

Contrast this with steel, porcelain and at least some plastics, such as Teflon. The surface structure also matters. The flatter the surface, the less the virus will “stick” to the surface. Rougher surfaces can actually pull the virus apart.

So why are surfaces different? The virus is held together by a combination of hydrogen bonds (like those in water) and hydrophilic, or “fat-like,” interactions. The surface of fibers or wood, for instance, can form a lot of hydrogen bonds with the virus.

In contrast, steel, porcelain or Teflon do not form much of a hydrogen bond with the virus. So the virus is not strongly bound to those surfaces and is quite stable.

For how long does the virus stay active? It depends. The novel coronavirus is thought to stay active on favorable surfaces for hours, possibly a day. What makes the virus less stable? Moisture (“dissolves”), sunlight (UV light) and heat (molecular motions).

The skin is an ideal surface for a virus. It is organic, of course, and the proteins and fatty acids in the dead cells on the surface interact with the virus through both hydrogen bonds and the “fat-like” hydrophilic interactions.

So when you touch a steel surface with a virus particle on it, it will stick to your skin and, hence, get transferred on to your hands. But you are not (yet) infected. If you touch your face, though, the virus can get transferred.

And now the virus is dangerously close to the airways and the mucus-type membranes in and around your mouth and eyes. So the virus can get in and — voila! — you are infected. That is, unless your immune system kills the virus.

If the virus is on your hands, you can pass it on by shaking someone’s else hand. Kisses, well, that’s pretty obvious. It goes without saying that if someone sneezes in your face, you’re stuck.

So how often do you touch your face? It turns out most people touch the face once every two to five minutes. So you’re at high risk once the virus gets on your hands, unless you wash off the active virus.

So let’s try washing it off with plain water. It might just work. But water “only” competes with the strong “glue-like” interactions between the skin and virus via hydrogen bonds. The virus is sticky and may not budge. Water isn’t enough.

Soap dissolves a virus’ structure

Soapy water is totally different. Soap contains fat-like substances known as amphiphiles, some structurally similar to the lipids in the virus membrane. The soap molecules “compete” with the lipids in the virus membrane. That is more or less how soap also removes normal dirt of the skin (see graphic at the top of this article).

The soap molecules also compete with a lot other non-covalent bonds that help the proteins, RNA and the lipids to stick together. The soap is effectively “dissolving” the glue that holds the virus together. Add to that all the water.

The soap also outcompetes the interactions between the virus and the skin surface. Soon the virus gets detached and falls apart like a house of cards due to the combined action of the soap and water. Boom, the virus is gone!

The skin is rough and wrinkly, which is why you need a fair amount of rubbing and soaking to ensure the soap reaches every nook and cranny on the skin surface that could be hiding active viruses.

Alcohol-based products include all “disinfectants” and “antibacterial” products that contain a high share of alcohol solution, typically 60%-80% ethanol, sometimes with a bit of isopropanol, water and a bit of soap.

Ethanol and other types of alcohol do not only readily form hydrogen bonds with the virus material but, as a solvent, are more lipophilic than water. Hence, alcohol does dissolve the lipid membrane and disrupt other supramolecular interactions in the virus.

However, you need a fairly high concentration (maybe 60%-plus) of the alcohol to get a rapid dissolution of the virus. Vodka or whiskey (usually 40% ethanol) won’t dissolve the virus as quickly. Overall, alcohol is not as good as soap at this task.

Nearly all antibacterial products contain alcohol and some soap, and that does help kill viruses. But some also include “active” bacterial killing agents, such as triclosan. Those, however, do basically nothing to the virus.

Alcohol works — to a degree

To sum up, viruses are almost like grease-nanoparticles. They can stay active for many hours on surfaces and then get picked up by touch. Then they get to our face and infect us because most of us touch our face frequently.

Water is not effective alone in washing the virus off our hands. Alcohol-based products work better. But nothing beats soap — the virus detaches from the skin and falls apart readily in soapy water.

Supramolecular chemistry and nanoscience tell us not only a lot about how the virus self-assembles into a functional, active menace, but also how we can beat viruses with something as simple as soap.

Original text: Link Written by Palli Thordarson

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The national Maariv newspaper reviewing Soapy

יד רוחצת יד: פיתוח ישראלי לנטילת ידיים יאפשר עצירת מגיפות במדינות מתפתחות
פיתוח של סטודנט ישראלי יאפשר שטיפת ידיים גם באזורים בהם אין גישה חופשית למים. פיילוט של המכשיר, שיכול להפחית משמעותית את התחלואה במדינות העולם השלישי, כבר מתבצע בהודו
האם סטודנט ישראלי עתיד להציל אלפי אזרחים במדינות העולם השלישי? לפני כשנה וחצי, בעת שהיה במהלך לימודי התואר השני במינהל עסקים ויזמות במכללה למינהל, הגה מקס סימנובסקי (32) מרחובות רעיון מהפכני: מכשיר המבוסס על יצירת מים מהאוויר על ידי מערכות אוטונומיות, שמאפשר שטיפת ידיים, במטרה לסייע במניעת הפצת מחלות במדינות מתפתחות. כל זאת על ידי אספקת גישה למים נקיים המיוצרים מהאוויר בעזרת אנרגיה ירוקה וסבון בפורמולציה מיוחדת.
הסטארט־אפ המהפכני זכה לאחרונה בתחרות iCreate 2018 הבינלאומית בתחום המים בהודו, והחברה שהקים סימנוביץ’, Soapy, מפעילה בימים אלה את הפיילוט בתת־היבשת. במקביל, מקבלת החברה פניות מגורמים שונים ממדינות נוספות.
ההשראה המרכזית לפיתוח הגיעה מבנו בן השנתיים של סימנובסקי, כשיום אחד, בעת הפסקת מים בביתם, שב מגינת המשחקים וביקש לשטוף ידיים, אולם ויתר על כך כשהבין שאין לו אפשרות. סימנובסקי, לדבריו, הבין באותו רגע שבעיה זו היא נחלתם של מיליוני ילדים במדינות מתפתחות, שבהן אין גישה חופשית למים. במקביל, התוודע סימנובסקי לכך ששני הגורמים המרכזיים למותם של ילדים במדינות מתפתחות הם בעיות במערכת העיכול ובמערכות הנשימה, כאשר לפי ארגון הבריאות העולמי אפשר להפחית את התחלואה בכמחצית על ידי שטיפת ידיים בלבד.
מכאן הדרך הייתה סלולה: סימנובסקי חבר ל־NOVUS, מרכז היזמות של בית הספר למינהל עסקים במכללה למינהל, מה שלטענתו אִפשר לו לפתח את הרעיון במשך כשנה. במקביל, המיזם התקבל לאקסלרטור הנחשב של Pears Challenge מבית Pears Fundation וגם נתמך על ידי תוכנית המנטורינג של IDU (תוכנית המשך של NOVUS). היום המיזם הוא חלק מהאקסלרטור בתוכנית החברתית של עמותת 8200. מאז, Soapy מפתחת ומקימה עמדות היגיינה אוטונומיות המספקות גישה למים נקיים שמיוצרים מהלחות שבאוויר, וסבון ייחודי שגם אותו פיתחו בחברה. “המטרה של המערכת היא להציל חיים”, אומר סימנובסקי, היום מנכ”ל החברה Soapy. הוא מוסיף: “על ידי הורדת התחלואה ניתן גם להוריד את רמת הרעב, להעלות את רמת החינוך ולהחזיר אנשים לשוק העבודה”.
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Israel21- Making water from the air to keep kids healthy in India

Soapy’s off-grid, sun-powered hygiene stations use water pulled from the air and a smart dispensing system for an exact dose of soap and water 24/7.
Max Simonovsky’s two-and-a-half-year-old son was well trained in routine handwashing. But one day when the water in his Rehovot neighborhood was shut off for repairs, the boy reasoned that if water wasn’t available, he therefore had no need to wash his hands after playing outside.
The Israeli dad was fascinated by his toddler’s way of thinking and discussed it with friends. They realized that the same line of logic may apply to millions of children in areas of the world that lack running water or electricity.
Further investigation revealed that two leading causes of death in young children in the developing world are diarrhea and respiratory infections. UNICEF and the World Health Organization say both could be significantly reduced by hygiene practices such as handwashing.
Simonovsky had discovered the basis for a social-impact startup, Soapy, which he founded in 2017.
“Better hygiene habits require water, soap and training, and also positive feedback and community support,” says Simonvsky. “We realized we could provide all of that.”
Soapy’s off-grid, solar-powered, self-sustaining hygiene station uses water pulled from the atmosphere. A smart system starts the washing cycle automatically when someone approaches, producing an accurate dose of soap and water. The unit operates around the clock.
Children in Bagepalli, India, using a Soapy Station. Photo: courtesy
Local stakeholders partnered with the Israeli startup to install the units in community centers, clinics or schools and develop educational programs to encourage the hand washing habit.
The first Soapy Station is setup in Bagepalli, India, with others coming in Delhi and Bangalore through a partnership with Swasti Health Catalyst, a nonprofit that implements social innovations to ensure health and well being of marginalized Indian communities.
“I met community leaders in Delhi and it was interesting to notice that most asked for units in their own homes first, before presenting the idea to the community,” Simonovsky tells ISRAEL21c. “We are trying to work in this direction now because if you have community support it will be easier to implement.”
Social impact
Simonovsky explains that some of the technology for the Soapy Stations was already in the market while other aspects were uniquely adapted.
“The soap formulation, for example, had to be redone because the usual formulation requires much more water than we can provide, wastes too much water in places with water scarcity and allows fewer people to wash their hands. From the same 100 liters of water, our system can provide more than 600 washing cycles, while other handwashing systems provide between 50 and 200 cycles.”
He says that Soapy’s unique technology for harvesting humidity and transforming it into safe water without additional infrastructure “is significantly cheaper than existing technologies in the field, providing maximum hygiene with minimum costs.”
Headquartered in Tel Aviv, Soapy is structured as a for-profit social-impact business.
“If you want to make a real impact you need to be profitable because otherwise you rely on external funders and if they disappear, you do too,” says Simonovsky, whose background is in pharma and medical-device business development.
Soapy began in the Novus accelerator at Simonovsky’s alma mater, the College of Management Academic Studies in Rishon LeZion, where it was chosen best startup of 2017.
The company was a WeWork Creator Awards regional Israel finalist, won $12,000 as first runner-up in the 2018 iCreate Awards finals in India, and received a Pears Challenge grant for its potential to address a critical challenge of the developing world.
Soapy is now in the 8200 EISP accelerator. At first bootstrapped, Soapy is now raising funds.
“We are trying to make the units as cheap as possible as we improve them, and to make them sustainable for very deprived communities,” says Simonovsky.
Soapy has been approached by NGOs and industrial companies in India, the US, UK and Africa.
“We have the potential for this technology to be implemented into many more countries but we need the right strategic partners so for now our focus is on India. When we scale up to the mass-production level we probably will manufacture the stations in India but all the R&D and some of the engineering will remain in Israel.”
The business model and price for each place of needvary greatly. The units are priced between $400 and $1,500. Each community pays a token fee to the partnering NGO or other franchise to cover maintenance and consumables.
Simonovsky is enthusiastic about the potential of Soapy to improve children’s lives.
“Children who are healthy come to school more often, so the impact of good hygiene is not only better health but better education,”
He says.
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Soapy Wins “1st runner-up venture” and received 750K INR from Livpure Private Limited

Yesterday we have traveled from Ahmedabad to one of the greatest innovation hubs in India – iCampus. Where the Israel – India bridge inauguration event took place. After the speeches of PM Benjamin Netanyahu(Israel) and PM Narendra Modi(India), Soapy were honored by Livpure RO Water Purifier (Manufacturer & Exporter), who chose Soapy out of hundreds of ventures, who applied to the iCreate 2017 Competition, to receive a prestigious 1st runner-up prize!
“The India Water Challenge invited applications from innovators of both countries to make point of use water purification more affordable by use of alternative technologies or through improvement of the existing one. Livpure RO Water Purifier (Manufacturer & Exporter) joined hands as Industry partner for the Water Challenge and was part of the joint panel of judges which selected the winners out of 800 (!) applicants from across both nations(Israel and India) who applied for the competition to solve the water challenge.”
A big thank you to Mr. Navneet Kapoor (Chairman & CoFounder of Livpure Pvt LTD) for the great honor!
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