Airborne Ion Analysis with Dissociation and
Non-destructive Evaluation of Viruses and Bacteria

Coronavirus pandemics may become one of the biggest challenges humanity faces in the XXI century, with the on-going SARS-CoV-2 outbreak being just the beginning of a series of pandemics. SARS-CoV-2 has an extraordinary ability of spreading in the environment (super-spreading effect), as it is present in human breath and waste, can be airborne and survive for days on both hard and soft surfaces. This augmented dispersion is attributed to the formation of submicron virus-containing aerosols being transferred deep into the alveolar region of the lungs, where immune responses seem to be temporarily bypassed. SARS-CoV-2 attacks humans regardless of age, but the mortality rate is heavily skewed towards senior citizens, particularly those with underlying medical conditions. A crucial aspect is the high number of asymptomatic individuals and infectious patients during the incubation period, which are extremely hard to identify, spreading the disease further. Thus, protective measures based on monitoring the dispersion of SARS-CoV-2 in the environment and particularly fast screening of individuals has become paramount for ensuring safety of our ageing population. One of these potential measures will be the application of new technologies for fast, reliable and continuous monitoring of viral and concomitant bacterial load in breath and in water.

Our long-term vision is the development of a ground-breaking analytical platform capable of detecting intact virus particles directly from breath in real time and also monitoring the bacterial and viral load in water. We envision such an analytical platform incorporating outstanding developments in mass spectrometry (MS) hardware to produce a unique, beyond-the-state-of-the-art screening tool with extremely versatile functionality extending to deep genetic and proteomic analyses of single cells for both targeted and unknown species. The design aspects of such an analytical platform involve cutting-edge instrumentation developments extending from the field of aerosol and gas dynamics, to gas phase protein chemistry and ion detection technology. This unique multi-dimensional, multiple-stage MS workflow can ultimately reach hospitals and bioanalytical laboratories worldwide. A compact version of the system deployed in airports and other mass gathering events for in-situ direct detection of intact viruses from breath is clearly feasible.