Tracking community transmission: Researchers advance COVID-19 variant detection in GTA wastewater

Members of U of T’s SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance team stand together on the rooftop of the Wallberg Building. (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

Members of U of T’s SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance team stand together on the rooftop of the Wallberg Building. (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

As Ontario continues its gradual easing of COVID-19 public health measures, continued vigilance is necessary for governments to manage the virus in the long-term.

One important and cost-effective tool that can help track trends in community transmission, detect new variants of concern and improve the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 viral signals that are often weakened by dilution and environmental factors is wastewater surveillance. Co-led by Professor Elizabeth Edwards (ChemE), a surveillance team including members of U of T Engineering’s BioZone are monitoring wastewater samples from nine treatment plants in the City of Toronto and are continuing to help to improve alternative monitoring strategies.

The BioZone lab receives 24-hour composite wastewater samples from the nine sites three times a week. Once it’s concentrated by a technician, RNA is extracted from the sample. Research associates will then conduct a one-step reverse transcription qPCR analysis on the extracts to quantify levels at which the SARS-CoV-2 virus is present.

The technique is the same as a clinical PCR test, only the sample — solids extracted from wastewater — is different.

Read the full U of T Engineering story. 


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