Grant advances COVID-19 wastewater research at MSU

Two MSU research labs net $6 million in state grants

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WEDNESDAY, July 14 — Nearly $6 million in grant funding awarded this week will allow researchers at Michigan State University to ramp up wastewater surveillance for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19 disease that is shed in feces in public sewers.

The funding is part of a $49 million grant supporting 19 projects from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to continue wastewater surveillance statewide, which can provide useful information regarding disease detection and community spread, university officials announced this week. This can be especially useful as clinical testing rates decrease.

Joan Rose’s Water Quality and Environmental Microbiology Laboratory and Irene Xagoraraki’s Environmental Virology Laboratory each received funding. Rose’s lab will receive $3.2 million and serve as the lead laboratory. Xagoraraki’s lab will receive $2.7 million, officials announced.

"We are going to use wastewater surveillance as a way to examine the disease spread and improve communications, access to testing and vaccinations, and return the campus to a vibrant, interactive place to learn,” Rose said in a statement. “This will be particularly important in the fall when we come back to campus due to the seasonal nature of the virus."

Xagoraraki and her research team began a wastewater-based epidemiology project in 2017, in collaboration with the city of Detroit. The new project focuses on the use of wastewater surveillance to provide early warnings of COVID-19 cases in the Detroit metropolitan area using wastewater treatment plant and community sewer-shed surveillance, according to a release.

“Outcomes of this project will provide important information on prediction and control of upcoming peaks for SARs-CoV-2 and variants in the area,” Xagoraraki said in a statement.

The new funding expands the current monitoring system to cover a larger geographic portion of Michigan. Officials estimate that more than 87,000 wastewater samples will be collected and analyzed. Current data can be viewed on the Michigan COVID-19 Wastewater Dashboard

City Pulse featured Rose and Xagoraki’s research in December after Rose had noticed a sudden uptick in the amount of coronavirus in campus and Meridian Township wastewater, which she later learned was the start of an outbreak tied to Harper’s Restaurant and Brew Pub.

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