Mechanisms for destabilisation of RNA viruses at air-water and liquid-liquid interfaces

C. A. Brackley, A. Lips, A. Morozov, W. C.K. Poon, D. Marenduzzo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the interactions between viruses and surfaces or interfaces is important, as they provide the principles underpinning the cleaning and disinfection of contaminated surfaces. Yet, the physics of such interactions is currently poorly understood. For instance, there are longstanding experimental observations suggesting that the presence of air-water interfaces can generically inactivate and kill viruses, yet the mechanism underlying this phenomenon remains unknown. Here we use theory and simulations to show that electrostatics may provide one such mechanism, and that this is very general. Thus, we predict that the electrostatic free energy of an RNA virus should increase by several thousands of kBT as the virion breaches an air-water interface. We also show that the fate of a virus approaching a generic liquid-liquid interface depends strongly on the detailed balance between interfacial and electrostatic forces, which can be tuned, for instance, by choosing different media to contact a virus-laden respiratory droplet. Tunability arises because both the electrostatic and interfacial forces scale similarly with viral size. We propose that these results can be used to design effective strategies for surface disinfection.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6812
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 24 Nov 2021


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