gin & kerosene (ugly_boy) wrote in biology,
gin & kerosene

Effect of lipids and ethanol on cells, tissues and viruses

If you immersed a cell in oil or another non-polar solvent, would the cell eventually lyse due to loss of membrane integrity? If the hydrophobic "force" is the major factor holding the cell membrane together, it seems like immersion in an oil would significantly decrease the stability of the membrane. I would predict that lower molecular weight non-polar solvents, like benzene, chloroform or n-hexane, would be even more effective at dissolving the lipid bilayer, and that some of these might also act chemically to alter the structure of the membrane. What would happen if you submerged an entire body in a non-polar environment? Would the soft tissue eventually melt away, leaving bones and a few tough, proteinaceous structures like hair? How would the effect differ for living and non-living bodies? What kind of membrane repair mechanisms do we have to combat such a scenario, and how effective are they?

I know that ethanol (as in Purel and other hand sanitizers) and isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) are small, amphiphilic molecules that are highly hygroscopic and work as disinfectants by disrupting cell membranes and causing dehydration. What would happen if you immersed an entire body in a low molecular weight alcohol or another small, amphiphilic solvent? Would it simply dessicate the body or would it break up the membranes and dissolve soft tissue? How would this compare to the body's behavior in oil, benzene or other solvents?

Finally, what is the virucidal mechanism of ethanol? Does it only work on enveloped viruses? I would not expect it to disrupt the covalently linked viral capsid, unless it acts chemically, for example on by cleaving peptide bonds. I remember hearing on NPR that ethyl alcohol is not effective against rhinovirus but that it does kill influenza and many other common viruses and most (or all?) bacteria. What about the structural or biological properties of rhinovirus accounts for this?
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