PROJECTE WASTEwater as a source of knowledge on SARS-CoV-2 and other potentially pandemic VIRuses: a One Health approach (VIRWASTE)


Agència de Gestió d´Ajuts Universitaris i de Recerca (AGAUR), convocatòria




Universitat de Barcelona (UB), Laboratori de Virus Contaminants d´aigues i aliments.


Dr. Lluís Corominas Tabares, Co IP: Dr Carles Borrego



0,00 Eur

The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed the importance of having optimal strategies to tackle with sanitary and social crises in due time. Effectiveness of mitigation measures significantly rely on science-based decision-making, where the key factors are the rapid identification of outbreaks, and infected individuals, to limit the spread of the disease. Moreover, the zoonotic origin of the current COVID-19 pandemic must serve as a wake-up call to work together under a One Health approach.
Since first reports of SARS-CoV-2 excretion in feces, wastewater surveillance has become a potential tool for monitoring current and future COVID-19 outbreaks in the frame of wastewater based-epidemiology (WBE). However, many questions remain unanswered before WBE could be fully implemented as a reliable tool for early warning. One of the aims of VIRWASTE is to answer these questions. Historical data obtained during the surveillance of 10 different sized wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) distributed across Catalonia for SARS-CoV-2 presence (March to December 2020) will be used to build an epidemiological model that will allow a reliable estimation of the real number of cases from wastewater concentrations of SARS-CoV-2. To feed and refine this model, VIRWASTE plans to analyze: 1) Fecal samples from COVID-19 patients to determine shedding rates; 2) wastewater from hospitals with a registered number of COVID-19 patients to be used as reference; and 3) SARS-CoV-2 dynamics in lab- and full-scale sewers. The model will then be validated after semi-automatic selection of sampling sites in sewer networks at neighborhood scale to resolve whether SARS-CoV-2 abundance in wastewater is a reliable predictor of COVID-19 cases at all population sizes. Wastewater may also be a useful tool for studying viral diversity and seeking for new viral species using state-of-the-art metagenomics. VIRWASTE will use optimized target and untargeted metagenomic sequencing as well as amplicon deep sequencing to decipher the wastewater virome and to describe the diversity of circulating SARS-CoV-2 strains as well as of other Human Coronaviruses (CoV) and potentially pandemic viral families. Slaughterhouses’ wastewater will be used to study the potential excretion of CoV and other potentially zoonic viruses by livestock (ovine, bovine, porcine, poultry). Moreover, and assuming that evolutionary analysis suggest that SARS-CoV-2 emerged from a CoV linage present in bats before its spillover to humans via an unknown intermediary animal host, VIRWASTE will analyze fecal samples from bats and small mammals from our geographical area to screen for the presence of phylogenetic relatives of SARS-CoV-2 and other viral families with pandemic potential. Finally, we plan to integrate project data into a Digital Observatory for SARS-CoV-2 surveillance in sewage. Being conscious that Health authorities will have to manage with new pathogens and emerging threats in the upcoming years, tools developed by VIRWASTE will help on the decision-making process to tackle current and future pandemics. The consortium of the project is UB (coordinator), ICRA, EURECAT and UdG.




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