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Development and Validation of a Simplified Method for Analysis of SARS-CoV‑2 RNA in University Dormitories

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posted on 2022-05-09, 18:04 authored by William Strike, Atena Amirsoleimani, Abisola Olaleye, Ann Noble, Kevin Lewis, Lee Faulkner, Spencer Backus, Sierra Lindeman, Katrina Eterovich, Melicity Fraley, Mohammad Dehghan Banadaki, Soroosh Torabi, Alexus Rockward, Eli Zeitlow, Matthew Liversedge, James Keck, Scott Berry
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, wastewater surveillance has become a useful tool for describing SARS-CoV-2 prevalence in populations of varying size, from individual facilities (e.g., university residence halls, nursing homes, prisons) to entire municipalities. Wastewater analysis for SARS-CoV-2 RNA requires specialized equipment, expensive consumables, and expert staff, limiting its feasibility and scalability. Further, the extremely labile nature of viral RNA complicates sample transportation, especially in regions with limited access to reliable cold chains. Here, we present a new method for wastewater analysis, termed exclusion-based sample preparation (ESP), that substantially simplifies workflow (at least 70% decrease in time; 40% decrease in consumable usage compared with traditional techniques) by targeting the labor-intensive processing steps of RNA purification and concentration. To optimize and validate this method, we analyzed wastewater samples from residence halls at the University of Kentucky, of which 34% (44/129) contained detectible SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Although concurrent clinical testing was not comprehensive, student infections were identified in the 7 days following a positive wastewater detection in 68% of samples. This pilot study among university residence halls validated the performance and utility of the ESP method, laying the foundation for future studies in regions of the world where wastewater testing is not currently feasible.

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