Subtle differences in virus composition affect disinfection kinetics and mechanisms
Viral disinfection kinetics have been studied in depth, but the molecular-level inactivation mechanisms are not understood. Consequently, it is difficult to predict the disinfection behavior of non-culturable viruses, even when related, culturable viruses are available. The objective of this work was to determine how small differences in the composition of the viral genome and proteins impact disinfection. To this end, we investigated the inactivation of three related bacteriophages (MS2, fr and GA) by UV254, singlet oxygen (1O2), free chlorine (FC), and chlorine dioxide (ClO2). Genome damage was quantified by PCR, and protein damage was assessed by quantitative MALDI mass spectrometry. ClO2 caused great variability in the inactivation kinetics between viruses, and was the only treatment that did not induce genome damage. The inactivation kinetics were similar for all viruses when treated with disinfectants possessing a genome-damaging component (FC, 1O2 and UV254). On the protein level, UV254 subtly damaged MS2 and fr capsid proteins, whereas GA’s capsid remained intact. 1O2 oxidized a methionine residue in MS2, but did not affect the other two viruses. In contrast, FC and ClO2 rapidly degraded the capsid proteins of all three viruses. Protein composition alone could not explain the observed degradation trends; instead, molecular dynamics simulations indicated that degradation is dictated by the solvent-accessible surface area of individual amino acids. Finally, despite the similarities of the three viruses investigated, their mode of inactivation by a single disinfectant varied. This explains why closely related viruses can exhibit drastically different inactivation kinetics.