A new technique for detecting the presence of the virus responsible for COVID-19 has been used to show that Far-UVC light not only deactivates, but completely destroys the virus and its genome.
This suggests that the human-safe light could be used to safeguard health in indoor public spaces.
The testing was carried out through collaboration between Space Republic, the UK-based creator of Pluto pods with Purifi, and Brunel University London.
During the testing, researchers discovered that exposure to Far-UVC light at 222nm deactivates the virus and destroys SARS-CoV-2 at a genetic level.
The discovery was made thanks to a novel technique devised by the researchers to detect and measure the presence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or fragments of it, and suggests that the innovative new technology could have the potential to play a very important role in the fight against COVID-19 and other transmissible diseases.
During the study, virologists at Brunel University London spread a chemically modified version of the live SARS-CoV-2 virus on surfaces of a Pluto pod. The surfaces were then exposed to Far-UVC light emitted by a Christie CounterAct disinfecting light fixture with filtered 222nm light, before samples were tested in a lab to determine how much of the virus was still present.
The new qRT-PCR based method developed by the research team is so sensitive that it can detect the presence of just three virus copies in a sample. In this study, the virus was undetectable in each sample, showing that the virus had been destroyed at a genetic level.
Previous research carried out in the USA has shown that Far-UVC has the potential to minimise the airborne spread of human coronaviruses and is safe to use even when people are present.
All human coronaviruses have similar amounts of DNA in their genomes, and this genomic size determines their radiation sensitivity. This means that as well as being extremely effective against COVID-19, Far-UVC light is likely to show comparable inactivation efficiency against other human coronaviruses such as influenza and the common cold.
Potentially, there are many indoor public spaces that could benefit from Far-UVC disinfection, such as offices, schools, hospitals, hospitality venues and gyms.
Space Republic in particular, now plans to incorporate Far-UVC into future iterations of its Purifi clean air technology system.
The research was part-funded by Innovate UK which is part of UK Research and Innovation, and Brunel’s Innovation Voucher.
Professor Michael Themis, professor in gene therapy and genotoxicity at Brunel University London, said: "Our measurements show this powerful method of sterilisation obliterates the Sars-CoV-2 genetic code at its core, thereby comprehensively preventing COVID-19 infection between individuals or transmission via solid surfaces.
“Unlike other decontamination methods which seek to disable the infectivity of viruses, our research demonstrates that Far-UVC completely kills the virus down to a genetic level. This could dramatically reduce the risk of new variants of the disease emerging.
“This application was measured in our laboratory with sensitivity of detection to as low as three virus copies. Using a PCR test similar to the one used to detect COVID-19 in the population, the technology we have developed is precise, robust and rapid.”
Luke Aviet, CEO and co-founder of Space Republic, added: “We’re thrilled to have been involved in such ground-breaking research, which could have profound implications for public health. Alongside the vaccination programs and other measures, Far-UVC has the potential to transform the way we live with the virus and indeed other pathogens in the future.
“We look forward to continuing research and development with our academic and industry partners, which will include deploying Far-UVC as part of our Purifi clean air technology to deliver safer workspaces.
“Attitudes towards hygiene have been forever changed by the pandemic; consumers expect businesses to be doing more to protect the health and wellbeing of customers and staff. As a UK-based start-up, we’re proud to be driving innovation in this area.
“Space Republic believes that alongside vaccination programs and measures such as mask wearing and adequate ventilation, Far-UVC has the potential to play a critical part in keeping indoor public spaces clean and safe.”