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

Learn More

Washing and killing tough viruses

21-century the new Pandemic Age

As many biology scientists will say, humanity is just a step, a second, a blink in the microbiology history book. These days the world is looking for something that can give a solution, a fightback the new Coronavirus – the COVID19. However, it is nothing new in the last decade. We saw new Influenza viruses, MERS, MRSA, SARS, EBOLA, Noroviruses, superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics. Furthermore, even alcohol-based sanitizers are not helping.

As it looks today, It will take at least 12-18 months to find and make commercially available a proper vaccine.

However, meanwhile, we should use all of the tools that are available to live through that time. According to the CDC, the best way is to practice good hands washing hygiene.

The main question that we should ask ourselves if we have the knowledge and the technology to fight Coronavirus through prevention by hand wash? Back in December, before the Covid19 became a world problem, our R&D team used another virus as a model in our battle. This TMV virus considered to be one of the most problematic viruses that are known to science. It can survive the heat of 93 Celcius degrees (199 Fahrenheit). We were looking to find the best combination of a life science and 21st-century high-tech. Our result shows the right level of confidence that there is a simple way to fight viruses that are much stronger and resistant than the Coronavirus.

A glance into The Science

The scientific experiment that took back in December 2019 was supported by Dr. Aviv Dombrovsky, a virology and virus transfer expert from the Hebrew University. The experiment was conducted with TMV that is considered to be one of the most resistant viruses known to science. Since November 2019, the EU Commission has established emergency measures to prevent the introduction into and the spread within the EU territory even though it is not affecting humans like the Covid19.

Source: BioMed Central Virology Jurnal (2015) – Evaluation of disinfectants to prevent mechanical transmission of viruses and a viroid – Effectiveness of disinfectant solutions to deactivate pathogen infectivity.

We used this virus as a model for developing a proper hand wash process that increases reagent effectiveness through Computer Vision and the Internet of Things analytics supported methodology. TMV is transmitted by contact as also many viruses, including the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) does.

The specific TMV that we have used is spreading fast across the globe because of human-assisted spread mechanisms. 

The experiment

Our study was performed at Volcani center, with the help of Dr. Aviv Dumbrovsky, Aviv is leading Pathology Researcher with expertise in virus transmission. The experiment was conducted in a few phases. In each phase, three transmission agents were involved. 

Phase 1  – Touching infected sample, followed by touching twelve sterile media for virus growth – without using any sanitation tools.

The results: 6 out of 12 media appeared to be infected (50% percent infection).

Phase 2  – Touching infected sample, followed by the hands washing with no soap added and touching twelve sterile media for virus growth

The results: 4 out of 12 media appeared to be infected (33.33 % percent infected).

Phase 3  – Touching infected sample, followed by the hands washing with a plain soap added and touching thirty-six (36) sterile media for virus growth.

The results: 10 out of 36 media appeared to be infected (27.77 % percent infected).

Phase 4 – Touching infected sample, followed by the hands washing with a 2 special formulation soap added and touching thirty-six (36) sterile media (each formulation) for virus growth.

The results: 0 out of 36 and 0 out of 36 media appeared to be infected (0 % percent infected). Special soap washed and killed the virus with 100% efficacy.

Results

Soapy system combined with Special Anti Viral Soap results. Samples: Rub (control group-12 samples); Water Only (reference control 12 samples); Plain Soap (36 test samples); D Soap (36 test samples); S Soap (36 test samples).

Conclusions

TMV is transmitted by contact as also Coronavirus does. It is very hard to stop it from infecting others in line and to identify the disease in its early stage, the same as with the Covid19. Our result proves that a combination of the right reagent with a controlled and user-supportive hand hygiene stations can efficiently fight with even the toughest viruses. “The TMV is much more resistant than most of the know viruses to science. Much more resistant to disinfection agents than the Influenza virus, Norovirus or the new Coranovirus (COVID19), this is why this new technology is a game-changer”.
The Coronavirus transmission mechanics show similar behavior. While the development of the vaccine will take time, it is our responsibility to use all working methods to stop the spread of this new disease.

“The most simple way to avoid infection today is through hands washing with soap and the right hygiene policy”

CDC
Learn More