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New breakthrough in wastewater monitoring.

Evaluating the risk of infectious viruses in Europe’s coastal waters.

BlueAdapt’s team of researchers from Bangor University have optimised a method to evaluate the risk of infectious viruses in wastewater, providing a crucial tool for protecting public health. Read the full report published here in MDPI.

Traditional techniques for measuring viruses in wastewater already tell us genetic information but don’t indicate whether the viruses are still potentially infectious to humans. The newly developed method uses a special dye, propidium monoazide (PMAxx), in a test that is called capsid integrity-RT-qPCR (ci-RT-qPCR). The team, led by Dr Jessica Kevill and Prof Davey Jones, carried out extensive tests on live viruses, heat-inactivated viruses, and viruses present in wastewater. The study looked at all viruses commonly found in wastewater, including adenovirus, hepatitis A, influenza A virus, and norovirus.

Improving wastewater monitoring

The results tell us that the PMAxx dye can successfully differentiate between live viruses, viruses heated to a high temperature and viruses which have been naturally degraded in wastewater samples.

This means the dye could potentially be used in wastewater monitoring to assess the risk of infectious viruses, without the use of specialist equipment, cell lines and the expertise needed to conduct traditional infectivity assays.

The research team examined 19 wastewater samples to check for the presence of different viruses. The findings revealed that certain viruses, such as enterovirus and norovirus, showed a significant amount of potentially infectious virus in the wastewater. On the other hand, viruses like SARS-CoV-2, responsible for COVID-19, were not found after using the PMAxx treatment. This absence indicates that there was no potentially infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus detected in the samples after applying the PMAxx dye.

Identifying potential health risks

BlueAdapt, funded by Horizon Europe and UKRI, is investigating the links between climate change and waterborne pathogens to reduce the health risks from coastal waters. Dr Jessica Kevill, Postdoctoral Researcher in Environmental Virology, said: “We use samples from the sea, river, and estuary water to get a snapshot of what viruses are present and to understand how they might evolve due to climate change. Using “microcosm experiments” we’ve been able to analyse the samples, and then introduce measured amounts of new viruses to see how they interact. We put the resulting data into computer models, helping us to predict how viruses behave in nature to identify potential health risks.”

This study highlights the usefulness of PMAxx dyes in evaluating the structure and variety of viruses commonly found in wastewater – a significant step forward in wastewater monitoring.

Read more about BlueAdapt’s research investigations here.

Full citation

Kevill JL, Farkas K, Ridding N, Woodhall N, Malham SK, Jones DL. Use of Capsid Integrity-qPCR for Detecting Viral Capsid Integrity in Wastewater. Viruses. 2024; 16(1):40.