Monitoring Wastewater to Provide Faster, Real-Time Detection of Covid-19 and Other Pathogens

Microtox PD, a real-time optofluidic wastewater community surveillance system for coronavirus and other pathogens, is a breakthrough innovation of Modern Water.

The technology has been developed to help support governments, cities, environmental and public health agencies, utilities and local authorities in the surveillance of contaminants and pathogens that can pose a serious environmental and public health threat.

Modern Water has been working for the past 12 months with its labs in York UK, its AI and photonics team in Europe, US and China and research institutions/universities around the world. Its technology expands on a microfluidic/photonics/AI instrument that the company started developing in 2015 in the University of Cambridge to detect E. coli in water (launched in December 2019). The company has successfully constructed nanochips coated with Affimers or Aptamers that bind the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. Affimers and Aptamers are small proteins or oligonucleotides that bind proteins with a similar affinity and specificity to antibodies, without the steric hindrance of a large molecule. Microtox PD is detecting that binding in real time.

The instrument is an adaptation of a system that Modern Water has installed in thousands of sites detecting pollution such as chemicals, trace metals. As one of the world’s leading technology providers of wastewater management and water monitoring systems Modern Water’s Microtox range of equipment and toxicity monitoring kits are the regulatory standard across three continents and used by customers across a range of industries including waste water, drinking water, contaminated land water, oil and gas, pharma and environmental monitoring.

The Need For Real-Time Detection

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for monitoring and early warning systems. Wastewater is a sensitive surveillance system that can give early indication of human and environmental health. The faster local outbreaks are identified, the faster action can be taken to contain.

Microtox PD can also be used for monitoring of water for contaminants of emerging concern (CECs).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that surveillance of COVID-19 in wastewater and sludge may compliment public health data and provide, for example, information on when cases may spike 5-7 days in advance of such spikes being detected by health facilities and health.

“The presence of SARS-CoV-2 in faeces proves the potential to conduct waste water surveillance of the virus to support epidemiological monitoring of COVID-19.”

To date all studies confirming the presence of Sars-Cov-2 in wastewater depend on samples being taken to laboratories where relatively costly and time consuming PCR tests are carried out. With national government partnerships, utility and Tier 1 partners, Modern Water has pioneered a surveillance solution which detects the presence of Covid in wastewater – in situ and in real time.

Ground Breaking Optofluidic Technology

The ground breaking optofluidic technology uses photonic sensing deployed in a nanochip environment with binding agents specifically designed to capture and bind the Spike protein of SARS-CoV-2. With artificial intelligence (AI) trained to identify the bound target pathogen at miniscule levels, current deployments show 100% specificity for Spike protein and femtogram per millilitre (fem/ml) levels of concentration, as confirmed by linearity testing. The AI identifies that Covid-19 particles are present in real time. The AI, over time, also signals a possible cluster and size of cluster where other data from local healthcare stakeholders are provided.

The optofluidic technology is retrofitted into one of the world’s leading toxicity surveillance solutions (Microtox from,). The Microtox range is installed in 3000 sites in 60 countries detecting pollution in real time and is the regulatory standard in many countries.

The optofluidic chips at the heart of the system are covered in a protein – Aptamer, Affirmer – that is specifically developed to bind the Spike Protein of SARS CV 2 with 100% specificity. Aptamers and Affirmers are already being developed for E. coli, Legionella, Cryptosporidium, Norovirus and PMMoV.

The Microtox PD range also effectively detects chemicals and other substances at lower molecule levels. With 100% specificity, it can zero in on substances that were not measurable or may be newly introduced. Medicines, pesticides, personal care, hormones, plasticizers, detergents, food additives, surfactant product compounds end up in wastewater systems, potentially making their way into water sources.

Relevant authorities must find new approaches to monitor and treat for these compounds and must also be prepared to address new concerns that are not yet known.

Example of One Current Installation

  • Microtox PD system runs at three Wastewater Treatment Plants of varying sizes and geographic locations with combined catchments of 10’s of 1,000s of people.
  • The units are installed at a point in the water management process that uses internal 100 µm and 10 µm filters on spur lines from near final effluent. For secondary effluent it uses a self-cleaning filter pump to reduce strain on the system. The units can be moved to see where the most viable spike protein particles are. The water passes through the detector cell and is returned to the feed line, so no water is removed from the overall system.
  • Outbound network access for the units allows chip data to be sent to a secure central portal for monitoring the system. On-site units can also be reviewed by an on-site team. Centralised reporting dashboards are accessible online on a secure portal.
  • Local ‘above ground’ data is available – timestamped positive PCR – for cluster size identification.
  • As the system amasses anonymised data from sites, its algorithms identify common trends and patterns that allows an extrapolation/prediction of the size of a cluster from the strength of a detection.
  • Data security is provided by way of data encryption for all data in transit to centralised reporting units and also for all data at rest. All data is stored in secure units located in the country where detection is happening.

Immediate Benefits:

  • Faster, real-time detection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that creates the COVID-19 disease (eliminates current monitoring sampling processes).
  • Faster deployment and scalable with remote management capabilities.
  • Enhances surveillance with community-scale access and improves data linkage with all appropriate stakeholders.

Long-term Benefits:

  • Future proofing for pandemics, the system can be easily adapted and deployed to detect future viruses
  • Used for contaminant monitoring and emergent contaminant monitoring in water and provides solutions to fulfill regulatory responsibilities.

How Microtox PD Addresses The Challenge

The rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2 around the world, causing the current Covid-19 pandemic highlights the critical need for community-scale surveillance. Clinical testing alone cannot detect outbreaks in a timely manner or easily account for asymptomatic cases.

Microtox PD is a wastewater surveillance solution that can deliver faster, real-time detection of Covid-19 infections in the community. It can be used to detect asymptomatic cases, which might otherwise go undetected with clinical testing.

Multiple countries are looking at National Surveillance Networks for SARS-CoV-2 and to be established, including monitoring occurring at wastewater plants.

Microtox PD has been designed for fast deployment across multiple sites. Remote management capabilities eliminate some of the ongoing labour intensive requirements of qPCR testing (i.e. physical sample collection, sample preparation, RNA extraction, and RNA measurement methods).

Multiple governments have imposed stringent legislation, regulations and directives for the protection of drinking water quality and wastewater.

Microtox PD plays a part in wide-scale monitoring programmes for both wastewater and water. The real-time monitoring capabilities can help ensure that standards are met as per the legislative requirements.

Microtox PD is an ideal solution for an emergent contaminant monitoring program by delivering real-time data, which allowing trends to be correctly analysed.

In 2017, the European Commission developed a new action plan The EU One Health Action Plan against Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) calling for better efforts to improve knowledge in early detection, effective infection control and surveillance. The aim is to Enhance surveillance of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic use through surveillance systems that facilitate greater standardisation of data collection, data linkage and sharing of real time information’.

Microtox PD is a solution that can be used to detect other pathogens beyond SARS-CoV-2, due to the adjustable nature of the viral capture system. It simplifies the data collection process enabling greater data standardisation and optimises collaboration with other data sources allowing detection of trends.

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