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Researchers To Test Wastewater Statewide For Early COVID-19 Detection

Water with rain drop ripples.

Michigan State University researchers have received $2.1 million in grant funding to test for the novel coronavirus in wastewater, which has the potential to be an early warning system for the presence of COVID-19.

Headshot of Joan Rose, she is wearing a purple blazer with a white button up.

Joan Rose, Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research and professor of plant, soil and microbial sciences and fisheries and wildlife.

The funding was provided by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services from Michigan’s allocation of federal money under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES. Existing COVID-19 wastewater surveillance programs were funded to quickly establish a standardized and coordinated network of monitoring systems across the state.

Joan Rose, Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at MSU, was awarded $1.3 million of the total funding to train and assist labs with analytical methods. Rose will be working with 20 advanced PCR laboratories around the state. PCR, which stands for polymerase chain reaction, is a DNA-based technology that provides a valuable tool for detecting and quantifying viruses. More than 100 wastewater locations will be monitored for the SARS-CoV-2 virus to provide early warning and to assist health departments with implementing public health measures to prevent the spread of the virus, particularly to vulnerable populations.

Headshot of Irene Xagoraraki, she is wearing a black top, she has dark brown hair and the background is black.

Irene Xagoraraki, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

“Early in the infection from both people with symptoms and those without symptoms, the virus is excreted in feces and thus ends up in wastewater. Working with wastewater utilities, we can provide an early look at what is happening in the community, maybe up to a week in advance,” Rose said.

Irene Xagoraraki, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at MSU, was awarded $800,000 to expand an ongoing COVID-19 detection program to test untreated sewage in the Detroit area. In 2017, she received funding from the National Science Foundation to begin a wastewater-based epidemiology project in collaboration with the Great Lakes Water Authority and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department. In April 2020, Xagoraraki received additional funding to focus on COVID-19 and develop an early warning system for the metro Detroit area.

“Our early work confirmed the validity of the method to provide early warning of multiple viral diseases, including COVID-19,” Xagoraraki said. “The Detroit project goes above and beyond simple testing of wastewater. We include multiple other data, measurements and processes to provide a tool that can be used by public health officials.”

Kim Ward via MSU Today.

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