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Multifunctional Nanosystems Destroy SARS-CoV-2

Researchers at Freie Universität Berlin produce virus-rupturing nanomaterials, opening up new possibilities for fighting the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus

№ 029/2021 from Feb 18, 2021

Researchers at Freie Universität Berlin have developed an innovative 2D graphene platform based on nanomaterials that can be used to destroy the membrane envelope of coronavirus cells. The research team showed that innovative graphene-based nanostructures can be used to fight different variants of the coronavirus, destroying virus particles by combining nanographene with polyglycerol sulfates and alkyl amine chains. “The study shows that combination of the dual functionalities of polyglycerol sulfates and alkyl amine chains with the carbon-based nanoplatform offers an efficient strategy for controlling the interactions between the virus and materials, and even to destroy the virus itself,” explains Professor Rainer Haag of Freie Universität Berlin. The findings of the study have been published in the scientific journal small.

Like many other viruses, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has a lipid layer, or “membrane envelope.” On the surface of the envelope are spike protein structures that cause infection when the virus penetrates a host cell after initial binding. In their study, the researchers show that electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions occur at the interface between the multifunctional nanoplatform and the coronavirus. “These interactions play a key role,” says Professor Haag.

First, the electrostatic interactions bind the spike proteins to the nanosystem. Then, the hydrophobic interactions force the membrane envelope to rupture. “This damage to the membrane envelope can lead to the complete and irreversible deactivation of the virus – so-called virucidality,” explains Professor Haag. These interaction strategies can effectively protect human cells from becoming infected with coronavirus. The strongest rupture of the SARS-CoV-2 envelope was obtained for materials with eleven carbon atoms in the alkyl chain.

From the work done so far, the research team believes that the nanosystem is also effective against novel mutations of the virus, which in SARS-CoV-2 often take place at the level of the spike protein. However, the efforts of this particular research project are directed not at the spike protein itself, but at the viral membrane, which remains unaffected by mutations. Haag explains, “We’re planning to use this substance to coat the surfaces of a variety of different materials to prevent the virus from binding. We’ve already registered a patent for this functionalization strategy using manufactured materials.”

Professor Haag adds, “The SARS-CoV-2 virus has led to a global pandemic that is nearly unprecedented, killing more than two million people so far. Although several vaccines have already been developed and approved, the virus continues to mutate, meaning that to fight it, we need a substance that can work across a broad spectrum of actual and potential variants.” One of the most important factors for the development of new vectors against SARS-CoV-2 is the cooperation between scientists from different disciplines – chemistry, virology, biophysics – along with a close collaboration between Freie Universität Berlin and the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing.

The research project was funded by the Collaborative Research Center 765, “Multivalency as Chemical Organization and Action Principle: New Architectures, Functions and Applications” at Freie Universität Berlin and the Berlin University Alliance pre-exploration project on SARS-CoV-2.

Press Photo

The combination of electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions plays a key role at the interface between coronavirus and materials.

The combination of electrostatic and hydrophobic interactions plays a key role at the interface between coronavirus and materials.
Image Credit: Ievgen S. Donskyi

The photo is available for download by the media. It is free of charge if used in the context of the press release and due credit is given the photographer.

Further Information


Ievgen S. Donskyi, Chuanxiong Nie, Kai Ludwig, Jakob Trimpert, Rameez Ahmed, Elisa Quaas, Katharina Achazi, Jörg Radnik, Mohsen Adeli, Rainer Haag, Klaus Osterrieder, “Graphene Sheets with Defined Dual Functionalities for the Strong SARS-CoV-2 Interactions,” small, doi 10.1002/smll.202007091 


  • Dr. Ievgen S. Donskyi, Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-59563, Email: ievgen.donskyi@fu-berlin.de
  • Prof. Dr. Rainer Haag, Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-52633, Email: haag@chemie.fu-berlin.de