Tag: Chemistry

Seaweed – A Promising Defense Against Covid-19

Natural substance from marine algae prevents infection.

The lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines results in the deaths of many people and even accelerates the development of new variants. Researchers from Tel Aviv University, led by Prof. Alexander Golberg of the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, have found that a substance called ‘ulvan’ extracted from edible marine algae prevents the infection of cells with the coronavirus.

The researchers believe this affordable and natural material may help solve serious problems, such as the spread of the coronavirus in large populations, especially in developing countries with limited access to vaccines. The study is still in its early stages, but the researchers are hopeful that the discovery will be used in the future to develop an accessible and effective drug to prevent coronavirus infection.

Affordable Solutions Needed

Prof. Golberg explains: “It is already clear today that the coronavirus vaccine alone, despite its effectiveness, will not be able to prevent the global spread of the pandemic. As long as the lack of access to vaccines remains unaddressed for billions of people in underprivileged communities, the virus is expected to develop increasingly more variants, which may be resistant to vaccines – and the war against the virus will continue.”

“It is very important to find affordable and accessible solutions to suit even economically weak populations in developing countries. With this aim, our lab tested a substance that could be extracted from a common seaweed. Ulvan is extracted from marine algae called Ulva, an edible ‘sea lettuce’ common in places like Japan, New Zealand and Hawaii,” he adds.

Golberg explains that his lab’s rational for exploring the potential use of ulvan for coronavirus defenses was motivated by previous discoveries of its effectiveness in preventing plant viruses along with some human viruses.

Successful Prevention Against Covid-19

To test their hypothesis, the TAU researchers grew Ulva algae and extracted the ulvan from it before sending samples to the Southern Research Institute in Alabama, which deals with infectious diseases. The US researchers built a lab model to test the activity of the substance produced by Prof. Golberg’s team. The cells were exposed to both the coronavirus and the ulvan. It was found that, in the presence of ulvan, the coronavirus did not infect the cells. As opposed to extracts from other algae tested, the substance demonstrated success in preventing coronavirus infection. 

According to the researchers, “The substance was produced in raw production, meaning it is a mixture of many natural substances, and we must find out which one is responsible for preventing cellular infection. After that, we will have to examine how, if at all, it works in humans.”

The research team consisted of Shai Sheffer, Arthur Rubin and Alexander Chemodanov from Dr. Golberg’s laboratory, Prof. Michael Gozin from the School of Chemistry and the Tel Aviv Universicy Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. They collaborated with researchers from the Hebrew University, the Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, and the Southern Research Institute in Alabama, USA. The article was published in the journal PeerJ.

Featured image: Specially designed closed system with photobioreactors for seaweed production at TAU

Conversations in the Clean Room

At the shared laboratories of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, casual conversations between scientists can lead to breakthroughs

A chemist and a physicist walk into a clean room. No, this is not the one about how many people it takes to change a light bulb. Nor is it the one about two Israelis and three opinions. This is a true story about how two doctoral students from different fields got talking and realized that they may be able to use chemistry to solve a nagging problem in physics. “These students were the best kind – curious and open to new ideas and different ways of approaching a problem,” says Prof. Gil Markovich of the Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Chemistry. Prof. Yoram Dagan, Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy, nods in agreement.

Markovich and Dagan were the students’ respective PhD advisors and quickly saw the benefit of collaborating. In their research, they sought a solution to prevent damage to the surface of semiconductors – small components that control electrical current in devices such as computers and mobile phones, which damage the functioning of the devices.

For this kind of research, a particularly sterile laboratory is required. The special conditions in the “clean room” include a constant temperature of 20 degrees, 50 percent humidity, and a very powerful filter that prevents the entry of dust particles into the laboratory space and is responsible for creating a sterile work environment. These conditions are essential for the production of certain materials, especially electronic chips, which can be disrupted by something as tiny as a grain of dust.

From cell phones to thermal cameras  

The scientists are using a chemical rather than physical process to create an electrical insulating thin film the thickness of a single atom. According to Dagan, “Unlike in physics, where non-organic materials are used, we used organic compounds to get the components that create the atom-thick layer.” In the process carried out by the scientists, they heated organic compounds to the point of dissolution. Once they touch the surface, they receive additional energy and break down until the process stops on its own. “This creates only a single layer of the insulating material, because there is not enough energy to form another layer,” Dagan explains. “In a cheap and rapid chemical process, we were able to offer an alternative to complicated and costly processes, and even to achieve a better result.”

Their invention could improve microelectronics in all the devices we carry in our pockets and have in our homes by making them faster, more efficient and more compact. “This is a long-term project – an idea that may be implementable twenty years down the line. Yet exploring this basic physics problem using nano-chemistry led us to an application that can be realized today,” says Dagan.

Markovich and Dagan have teamed up with industry experts for guidance in applying their technology to improve resolution in infrared cameras used for defense and security installations. The Israel Innovation Authority (formerly the Office of the Chief Scientist) has invested in the project with a grant reserved solely for projects that have a good chance to be commercialized in Israel. “It all begins, though, with basic science. Basic science is the foundation of knowledge. When we discover new possibilities and new materials, applications can grow,” stresses Dagan.

Collaboration opens new possibilities

Markovich and Dagan share a passion for unlocking the secrets of the universe: “We are both interested in origins,” says Dagan. “Gil researches the interaction of minerals with amino acids and DNA – the original building blocks of life.  I am interested in the fundamental properties of matter and materials. I would not think up chemical approaches to physical problems by myself. Our collaboration is opening up new possibilities.” says Dagan.

“This has been a fun ride,” adds Markovich. “First, Yoram is a nice person. And I never worked on these kinds of problems before. We have ideas for cooperation on chemical ways to create new materials for quantum computing. The future is wide open.” 

Featured iage:Prof. Gil Markovich and Prof. Yoram Dagan (Photo: Yoram Reshef)

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