For the study, the team infected African green monkey kidney cells with a coronavirus strain isolated from a patient in Germany. The cells were loaded into tubes. The tubes represented two different types of environments. One environment was "clean" the other "dirty" with animal proteins to simulate biological contamination in real-life samples.
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The viral strains in the clean environment after heating, but some strains in the dirty samples survived. The heating process led to a clear drop in infectivity but enough living strains survived.
The 60 degrees Celcius (140-degree Fahrenheit) hour-long protocol has been adapted in many testing labs to suppress a wide range of deadly viruses such as Ebola. This temperature may be enough for low viral load samples but it may not be enough for samples with extremely high amounts of the virus.
The team found that higher temperatures could solve the problem. For instance, heating the samples to 92-degree Celcius (197.6-degree Fahrenheit) for 15 minutes could completely deactivate the virus. But, the high temperature could severely fragment the virus's RNA which means reducing the sensitivity of the test.
The researchers suggested using chemicals instead of heat to kill the virus. This would create a balance between the safety of lab workers and the efficiency of the detection process. The situation in real life could be much more complex. As the virus behaves differently in different environments.