University of Minnesota is testing DIY coating from seeds to improve masks
Engineers at the University of Minnesota are studying whether a coating made from a tree extract could be applied to masks to increase their protection against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The study led by Boya Xiong, assistant professor of engineering at U, was inspired by the antimicrobial and antiviral properties of proteins from Moringa oleifera, a tree native to India that is grown in home gardens because its seeds can be eaten as vegetables and its leaves. brewed like tea.
The goal of the research is to crush the seeds and mix them with water to form a coating that can be applied to the masks, as the proteins appear to bind specifically to the coronavirus in a way that will trap it, Xiong said.
“We hope that having this protein layer on the fabric will improve the removal of the virus in droplets or aerosols from people who speak, inhale or cough.”
The federally funded study is the latest DIY concept explored at U, where an anesthesiologist last year made a makeshift ventilator from a toolbox and $ 150 in parts, and a designer. Apparel this year created a mask design from vehicle filters. which could be assembled if there is a shortage of supply.
U engineers also worked with the Minnesota Orchestra on ways to protect musicians from infection during performances and simulated how viral buildup can occur based on airflow patterns in elevators, stores and classrooms.
Wearing a mask has been one of the most politically sensitive and controversial strategies in the COVID-19 pandemic, with debates over mask-wearing requirements in schools sparking arguments and confrontations during the COVID-19 pandemic. local government and school board meetings.
Mask-wearing rates are declining along political lines, but fell overall in Minnesota after a term for indoor masks ended in May. More than 90% of Minnesotans wore masks in public most or all of the time in February, but that rate fell below 20% in July before rebounding above 45% this month, according to data from survey published by Carnegie Mellon University’s COVIDcast website.
While some studies have questioned whether the masks have reduced viral transmission in the pandemic, federal and state health officials are encouraging their use in counties with high transmission levels and K-12 schools.
A recent U and Mayo Clinic study used two particle-emitting dummies to find that the masks worked best as source control – preventing wearers from spreading viral particles to others – but the risks were the weaker when both parties wore them.
Two studies released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also showed that the risks of school outbreaks were higher in schools without a mask requirement. However, these studies may not have proven cause and effect, as it is possible that schools with mask warrants take COVID-19 risks more seriously and have other methods of infection control. in place, said Michael Osterholm, director of the U’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.
“A lot of times the masks are markers for all the other things that are going on,” he said.
A good fit has also been a concern for even the most effective masks, which need to fit snugly over the nose and under the chin to reduce viral transmission. Xiong said solutions to all of these issues are needed but could only be helped by a simple way to improve how the masks work.
“We are all hoping that this COVID is gone,” she said, “but I think the bigger reality probably… is that it will look more like a really bad flu and there will be more epidemics where people will still have to wear masks. “
Xiong studied the tree extract protein for five years, discovering its antiviral qualities and testing how it removes bacterial and viral particles from water.
The challenges ahead are to find simple ways to load the masks before the coating is applied so that the proteins bind to the fibers in such a way as to capture the viral particles.
Breathability will also be studied, but Xiong said the proteins in the coating are tiny and should not clog the pores of the masks that allow air to enter.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744