Wastewater key ‘DNA fingerprint’ to track COVID-19 outbreaks – Saanich News


One man’s waste is another’s treasure.

In this case, the waste is the kind produced by people, and University of Calgary researchers say a pilot project testing the city’s water provides a valuable tool in the fight against COVID-19.

“It’s similar to how detectives look for DNA evidence at a crime scene. We are looking for the RNA signal that the virus that causes COVID leaves in the wastewater, ”said Kevin Frankowski, co-lead of the COVID-19 wastewater monitoring project at the university’s Cumming School of Medicine.

“So we’re not looking for the virus itself – we’re looking for the genetic fingerprint it leaves behind. “

The research team provided a demonstration of sample recovery on Wednesday. A computer recovers a constant supply of wastewater from a modified manhole over a 24 hour period.

What remains is a large water bottle full of yellowish liquid.

“It helps increase the data we collect through other public health measures such as clinical trials to give us a better understanding of how cases move up and down at various scales across the city, right down to the individual neighborhoods, down to individual buildings. like hospitals, ”Frankowski explained.

He said the system can help identify areas where there are outbreaks and could also identify more rare outbreaks such as measles and polio before they appear in the medical lab.

“We can actually have a leading indicator of six days before an outbreak happens just because of the way the biology works when it comes to the virus,” he said.

“We will pick it up in the sewage before it shows up in the number of clinical cases. “

The one-year pilot project has come to an end and Frankowski hopes to see the process adopted across the province.

“It is done all over the world,” he said. “Wastewater-based epidemiology is a rapidly emerging field and it has proven to be an excellent tool to increase our response to COVID. “

Casey Hubert, associate professor of biological sciences at the university and co-leader of the project, said Calgary was the perfect place to test science.

“All the information that is contained when we go to the toilet goes into the sewage system, but it is not diluted by storm water,” he said.

“What we are sampling contains very valuable information from all the people who use the toilet in this area. Wastewater analysis really offers an early warning signal.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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