I am searching for (and failing to find) literature about the electric charge (+/-) of viruses, specifically the Coronaviruses. I am aware that it is a complicated issue, including interaction of pH and electrostatic charges, etc. However, I note that electrostatic charge of various materials is investigated for barrier protection, suggesting that there are normal average or overall charges for viruses. Can anyone comment on this?

Especially, I want to know, at neural pH, are Coronaviruses more likely to adhere to a negatively or positively charged surface?



1 Answer 1


This is a great biological question! It asks a lot about how empirical science is done in the field of modern biology! I'm glad we encourage such questions from curious people who want to learn more.

Via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4213776/#!po=1.19048

All viruses are coated with proteins and contain genetic material which can either be DNA or RNA. Since both nucleic acids have phosphodiester bonds, the genetic material provides a partial negative charge to the virus. The viral nucleic acid genomes are wrapped in proteins that can be neutral, negative, or positive in charge. Therefore, the net charge of a virus depends upon the cumulative charges of the genetic material and the protein.

So the electric charge of a virus particle depends on the constitutive parts of the virus of interest; particularly if enveloped or non-enveloped; the outward-facing heads of the phospholipid bilayer membrane of an enveloped virus will carry a negative charge.

Two references in the above paper may help with a deeper dive into the subject:

  • Lodish H. et al. Molecular Cell Biology (ed 4.). (W. H. Freeman, New York, 2000). (Google Scholar)
  • Michen B. & Graule T. Isoelectric points of viruses B. J Applied Micb. 109, 388–397 (2010). (PubMed) (Google Scholar)

I couldn't find any papers on the electrical properties of novel coronavirus specifically. But looking into SARS-CoV may be suggestive of general properties. Its envelope proteins have a positive charge that help with targeting and infecting ACE2-expressing cells (https://clarivate.com/wp-content/uploads/dlm_uploads/2020/01/CORONAVIRUS-REPORT-1.30.2020.pdf).

  • $\begingroup$ Does it really mean that viruses are not electrically neutral (i.e., they are essentially ions) or is it mostly disbalance of charge, i.e., polarization and higher electric moments? $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Dec 27, 2020 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ Many viruses appear to have an average isoelectric point (pI) that is below a pH of 7. This means that, at the pH of water, such viruses carry a net negative charge. Other viruses with a pI greater than 7 have a net positive charge. A pH-based separation column can be used for purification. sfamjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/… pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18778829 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chromatofocusing $\endgroup$ Dec 27, 2020 at 22:16
  • $\begingroup$ sorry, I didn't realise at first that you are talking about viruses in a solution, rather than isolated viral particles. $\endgroup$
    – Roger V.
    Dec 28, 2020 at 8:43

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