Studying in autumn 2020 during coronavirus

Middlesex academic co-ordinates international initiative to test for COVID-19 in sewage

17/06/2020
International collaboration coordinated by Professor Lian Lundy into the presence of COVID-19 in sewage could provide early warning of local outbreaks of the virus

Professor of Environmental Science at Middlesex, Lian Lundy, is co-ordinating an international initiative to develop a comparable, open-access database on the occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in sewage. Results will directly inform ongoing research into the use of the approach to provide an early warning of local outbreaks of COVID-19.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater research groups around the world have been rushing to collect influent wastewater samples. This time-critical activity is particularly challenging as many laboratories are under lockdown and there is no standard sampling protocol or analytical method. Samples are currently collected and analysed for fragments of genetic material (RNA) from the virus that can be detected in waste water.

As co-chair of the NORMAN working group on water reuse and policy support, Middlesex academic, Professor Lian Lundy, is co-ordinating a global network involving the use of a common sample collection, storage and analysis protocol developed by the independent research institution KWR, the first to report detection of the viral RNA in sewage and leaders in this field. To date 85 groups research groups from 31 countries have expressed their interest in participating with two sampling campaigns already undertaken.

"What we are trying to do is build global, national and local knowledge about the behaviour and fate of coronavirus in the environment. This project is a great example of scientists around the world collaborating for the common good." Professor Lian Lundy, Middlesex University

This voluntary initiative - developed as an opportunity for researchers to contribute to international efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic - is open to all researchers and is self-funded. The results will be access and will be stored within the NORMAN database system.

Professor Lundy explains that studies have shown that people who have COVID-19 shed the virus in faeces. While virus has not been detected in sewage in an infectious form, viral RNA fragments have been detected before clinical cases have been reported raising the potential of its use in public health initiatives to rapidly manage local outbreaks.

“What we are trying to do is build global, national and local knowledge about the behaviour and fate of coronavirus in the environment. This project is a great example of scientists around the world collaborating for the common good.

“Sewage samples could provide another method to track progression of the coronavirus and act as an alarm bell to communities that more local action needs to be taken to tackle the pandemic.”

Find out more about studying Environmental Science at Middlesex.

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