Within a few months of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, researchers started investigating how wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE), extracting data from urine and feces transported through sewers, could be used in the fight to isolate, contain and prevent the virus from spreading. At the first company in the world to commercialize data from sewage, Biobot Analytics, researchers have now successfully detected the B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater samples across the United States. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes COVID-19 and B.1.1.7 was the variant first identified in the United Kingdom and is commonly called the “UK variant.”
Recently, the director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute announced that the B.1.1.7 strain is now observed in the majority of test samples they have analyzed using more traditional methods. So, detecting B.1.1.7 is now more important than ever in the U.S.
“Launching B.1.1.7 analysis is the first step in a wastewater-based epidemiology approach that will expand to other variants as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves,” said Dr. Mariana Matus, Biobot CEO and Cofounder.
If the virus can be detected in human waste before a patient shows symptoms of the disease, measurements of SARS-CoV-2 concentrations in wastewater could be a “leading indicator” of COVID-19 disease activity. Research is ongoing in this area as well.
For opioid WBE detection that the company performed prior to COVID-19, mass spectrometry analysis was used to measure the chemically modified versions of the opioid drugs after they were consumed. In the case of infectious diseases like COVID-19, DNA sequencing analysis is used to detect and quantify the virus variant.
The company is now accepting and analyzing wastewater samples for B.1.1.7 and plans to add additional variants to its analysis as methods are developed.