The virus that causes COVID-19, Sars-CoV-2, has a strong affinity for fine particles, which are one of the causes of air pollution. The conclusion is from a study conducted by the University of Tor Vergata in Rome and Ennea, and published in the journal Science of The Total Environment.
The research highlighted that the virus’s Spike protein, which is the molecular key it uses to enter cells, binds very easily to PM2.5, a particulate matter with dimensions less than or equal to 2.5 micrometers (one-thousandth of a millimeter), which is a component of air pollution.
However, it remains necessary to understand whether this affinity facilitates the spread of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, its airborne transmission, or whether, on the contrary, it causes it to be captured and inactivated.
“During the first phase of the epidemic, Lombardy and, in general, the entire Pianora Padana region, were the most affected by viral infections compared to the rest of the country,” said Caterina Arcangeli from Enea, co-author of the study led by Alice. Romeo, from the University of Tor Vergata.
He added: “We are talking about one of the most polluted areas in Italy, which has led the scientific community to assume a possible role for atmospheric particles in the spread of the virus.”
To test this hypothesis, the researchers verified the presence of the virus in PM2.5 filters in the city of Bologna and ran simulations using Enea’s Cresco6 supercomputer, capable of performing 700 trillion calculations per second.
“Affinity between PM2.5 and Sars-CoV-2 is plausible, but simulations do not allow us to assess whether these interactions are stable enough to transmit the virus into the atmosphere or whether it maintains ineffectiveness after transmission,” he concluded. It cannot be ruled out that the virus was “hijacked by fine particles, resulting in reduced efficacy and spread, or inactivated due to this strong interaction with particles.”
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