Researchers from Nova Scotia are teaming up with New Brunswick scientists to develop antiviral packaging to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Dr. Beth Mason, CEO of the Verschuren Centre at Cape Breton University, said her team is studying how to embed tiny particles into plastic that would kill the coronavirus on contact. 

A team of New Brunswick scientists will then build on that work to develop a coating that could be sprayed on other packaging, like cardboard. 

Mason says most viruses and bacteria, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, have a protective coating “that makes them really difficult to kill.”

But certain nano-metallic compounds can disrupt the lipid membrane — or coating. That causes the virus to dehydrate and die. 

Mason’s team is trying to embed those virus-killing compounds into plastics. The idea is that when the coronavirus lands on the packaging, “the active compound will disrupt the protective coating of the virus.”

The first step in the research is to find the right molecules to embed, explained Mason. The next step is to ensure that the compound can survive the high temperatures that it takes to make plastic. 

Within a couple of months, Mason said she hopes her team will have identified some compounds that a team in New Brunswick can use to develop a coating. 

“And then all successful candidates will get sent to a virology lab where they’d actually test the efficacy on COVID-19,” she said. 

Mason’s team already has a number of compounds identified, including small-scale copper, that could effectively burst the lipid membrane of viruses.

Ken Whitehurst, the executive director of the Consumer Council of Canada, said he hasn’t heard any scientific evidence to suggest that the coronavirus is commonly spread on consumer goods. So he’s not sure consumers will be eager to potentially pay more for packaging.  And even if the packaging proves effective at killing the virus, he wonders whether there might be unintended consequences if the nanoparticles end up in the environment. 

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