Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) that extracts data from urine and feces transported through sewers has the potential for communities to rapidly screen, quarantine and prevent the spread of COVID-19 caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection. As a result, many researchers are investigating its effectiveness for COVID-19 testing and to obtain information on health, disease and pathogens as well as trace illicit drugs.
In one approach, researchers use a paper-based device with different functional areas as a small analytical tool. Printed with a wax printer, the device integrates extraction, enrichment, purification, elution, amplification and visual detection – all the processes required for nucleic acid testing – into an inexpensive paper material. The researchers believe that for asymptomatic infections in the community or if people are not sure whether they are infected or not, this type of rapid and real-time community sewage detection can determine whether there are SARS-CoV-2 carriers in the area.
Biobot Analytics claims to be the first company in the world to commercialize data from sewage. The company combines science with data, analytics and artificial intelligence to make predictions about public health trends, such as whether COVID-19 is likely to spread or decrease in counties across the country.
According to Dr. Mariana Matus, Biobot’s CEO and cofounder, “Biobot believes that collecting data from sewage will enable communities to, first and foremost, measure the scope of the outbreak independent from patient testing or hospital reporting, and include data on asymptomatic individuals.”
The process involves pasteurization as its first step for safety. The company’s initial effort for opioid detection could differentiate between drugs flushed down a toilet and those actually ingested by a human. In April, Biobot reported on its SARS-CoV-2 efforts that demonstrate the feasibility of measuring SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater.