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Can antimicrobial surfaces work against the covid-19 virus?

Two recent experiments show how researchers are looking at antimicrobial surfaces, coatings to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 virus

A digital display on a bus stop informs passengers of cleaning protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Oxford Street, London.
A digital display on a bus stop informs passengers of cleaning protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Oxford Street, London. (AP)

One of the many aspects of our daily lives that has changed during the covid-19 pandemic, is the way we deal with surfaces. In the future, it is almost certain that people around the world will pay more attention to wiping down and keeping surfaces in their living and working environment clean.

Researchers around the world are now looking at antimicrobial surfaces as a possible solution. Recently, scientists from the University of Cambridge working on an antiviral coating technology, called DioX, believe that it could protect face mask users by killing the coronavirus in as little as an hour. According to a PTI report, the coating dismantles the virus by rupturing the protective outer membrane, which is also known as the ‘envelope’.

The technology is based on quaternary ammonium salts – organic compounds widely used in the textile industry for their antimicrobial properties. Laboratory tests showed that the mask coated with DioX killed 95% of pathogens on its surface within one hour and they were undetectable after four hours, the PTI report explains.

Another recent experiment involves the aerospace company Boeing and researchers from the University of Queensland (UQ). Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) are conducting experiments with a unique antimicrobial surface coating, developed by Boeing and UQ, designed to fight the spread of bacteria and viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes covi. This joint research was first tested aboard Boeing's ecoDemonstrator program last year. Under this program, emerging technologies are taken out of the laboratory and tested in the air to solve real-world challenges for airlines, passengers and the environment.

Now, this coating is being tested in orbit. The ISS experiment is testing two identical sets of objects -- including an airplane seat buckle, fabric from airplane seats and seat belts, and parts of an armrest and a tray table. “One set received the antimicrobial surface coating, the other did not. ISS crew members are touching both sets of objects every few days to transfer microbes naturally occurring on human skin; no microbe samples were sent to the station for this experiment,” according to a post on Boeing’s website. These test objects will be returned to Earth later this year for analysis to measure the effectiveness of the surface coating in a space environment.

“The primary purpose of our antimicrobial coating was to help protect space missions. After the current pandemic struck, we modified the coating's formula to also target the covid-19 virus if it is present on a surface on Earth. We look forward to continuing our testing regimen and working to gain regulatory approvals,” Professor Michael Monteiro from UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology says in a press release.

An antimicrobial surface coating in spacecraft could not only help ensure the health of the crew, but protect the spacecraft's systems from bacteria, the release explains. Ultimately, such technologies may also help prevent interplanetary contamination from Earth-borne or another planet's microbes.

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