Developing a solid basis
Wed 20 Oct, 2021
Developing a solid basis SARS-CoV-2 detection as a first step towards wastewater-based epidemiology. Further potential lies in tracing influenza viruses, legionella, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria
Project CoMoTH aims at comprehensive statewide wastewater monitoring in Thuringia / Analytik Jena offers the complete chain of equipment for biological parameters
Jena, 20 October 2021 – As Jens Olk, operating manager at Chemisches Untersuchungsamt (CUA) Emden described: “We recently had a case of an industrial company with 5000 employees. We detected SARS-CoV-2 using a 24-hour mixed sample from a wastewater shaft at the company site. Individual testing then confirmed that one of the staff members was infected”.
His lab has been using an array of Analytik Jena equipment since mid-2021. In the case that Olk described, the monitoring system was able to prevent a possible spread of the virus at his customer’s site the very same day. As Olk added: “This showed that applying PCR to wastewater can help companies enhance their hygienic concepts as a sort of early warning system”.
Virus particles in difficult samples
“It was not so long ago”, Dr. Christine Gräfe, product manager at Analytik Jena, recalled, “that it was inconceivable to extract genetic information from difficult samples from a sewage treatment plant. But the life sciences have been developing very rapidly. Virus particles and other germs, beginning at a certain concentration, can be detected in samples as difficult as wastewater”.
An EU recommendation of 17 March 2021 stipulated that member states should regularly monitor wastewater plants in places with over 150,000 inhabitants, and Analytik Jena has been involved, together with its parent company Endress+Hauser, in the development of the relevant standards. Both worked with Germany’s largest water management association, Emschergenossenschaft/Lippeverband (EGLV) in the Ruhr Region, on a common approach to virus detection. A fully functional and tested workflow was already available by spring 2021. As Dr. Jens Schoth of EGLV summarized: “We’re confident that we’ll be able to work together with our model project to create the basis for a wastewater-based monitoring system”.
Creating an early warning system
The aim of the CoMoTH Project is a state-wide wastewater monitoring system in Thuringia, together with the project’s partners at Weimar’s Bauhaus University and at Analytik Jena. The project is beginning with samples at 15 to 20 wastewater plants with the goal of advancing the workflow, involving the health authorities, and presenting the results in a suitable manner.
The service provider for environmental analysis Eurofins Umwelt Ost GmbH is participating in the project as an associate partner. As the company’s Jena-based managing director Dr. Benno Schneider explained: “We hope to work together with the scientists at the Bauhaus University of Weimar and Analytik Jena to achieve a sound basis for early warning systems – not only for municipal use, with legislators having to be involved to make the measures mandatory, but also in smaller frameworks such as industrial facilities or sensitive institutions. This would reduce health hazards while safeguarding facility security.”
Influenza, antibiotic-resistant germs, legionella
And this is not limited to SARS-CoV-2. As Analytik Jena project head Dr. Robert Möller explained: “Using the same workflow equipment array, we can trace the spread of other pathogens in the population”. The term used for this is wastewater-based epidemiology (WWBE), which has a potential that has yet to be fully grasped. Early warning and monitoring systems are, for example, conceivable for antibiotic-resistant germs, gastrointestinal viruses such as norovirus and cholera, influenza viruses, salmonella, legionella, clostridia, hepatitis, and polio. Jens Olk of CUA Emden recognizes the potential of the process in applications such as detecting antibiotic-resistant germs, influenza viruses, and legionella: “Take for example legionella: Currently microbiology is the only officially accepted approach, which takes several days to cultivate and detect the pathogen. Until then, nobody at the site in question is allowed to open a water tap. Using PCR, they could know within hours whether there is an actual problem or not. As a sort of pragmatic pre-test, if it turns out to be positive, they could shut down water use and wash out the pipes until the official results are available. We wish to work together with Analytik Jena on this – and in establishing PCR as the standard.”
Expanding on critical infrastructure
Generally speaking, mass testing in a wastewater plant does not depend on voluntary compliance, while protecting any sort of individual rights to privacy. Low costs are connected here with great benefits when it comes to having an early handle on the spread of infection. As Robert Möller added. “This allows for the expansion of the critical infrastructure, particularly with a view towards water recycling, protecting the population, and averting hazards to the natural environment.”
Water as the elixir of life
Ulrich Krauss, CEO of Analytik Jena, speaks of water as our elixir of life: “It is a finite resource and we actively contribute to its protection with our solutions.” Silvio Beier, Professor of Technologies for Urban Material Flow Use at the Bauhaus University of Weimar and head of the CoMoTH Project added: “Water and health are central to our quality of life. Innovative approaches are therefore needed, and we are currently establishing the necessary standards.”
What constitutes the workflow, which equipment is put to use?
The workflow, from sampling to the complete PCR result, takes four hours with up to 96 samples of a freely selectable volume. Automated steps make it all easier to use. Jens Olk of CUA Emden recalled: “We were completely unexperienced when it came to PCR and sample preparation. We were able to develop the new process in a very short period of time and to achieve significant, reliable results.” At the wastewater treatment plant, the Liquistation CSF48 sampler from Endress+Hauser takes the sample fully automatically, while the mobile variant CSP44 is used upstream. The sample is concentrated in the laboratory to be able to detect the target organisms. Subsequent to electronegative filtration, the virus fragments and particles are removed from the filter membrane using the SpeedMill PLUS.
Analytik Jena pipetting robots provide sample isolation in the lab – either the InnuPure C16 touch, which processes up to 16 samples or the CyBio FeliX for 96 samples. Both offer ready-to-use protocols which – in combination with the relevant extraction kits – automatically purify DNA or RNA from the samples.
The qTOWER³ system is responsible for detection using fluorescence measurement. Within the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), the targeted DNA or cDNA segment is copied and marked with fluorescence. The more often the series of letters in question appears, the stronger the signal becomes in the real-time PCR process and the clearer it can be determined how high the viral load actually is.
About Analytik Jena GmbH
Analytik Jena is a leading provider of analytical measuring technology and instruments for molecular biology and liquid handling and automation technology. Analytik Jena’s products for lab analysis are developed specifically to provide accurate results and ease of use. The Group’s extensive range also includes services and device-specific consumables and disposables, such as reagents and plastic articles. Analytik Jena is part of the Endress+Hauser Group, a family-run company based in Switzerland.
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