An efficient method to enhance recovery and detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater

Xing-Fang Li , Teresa Kumblathan , Yanming Liu , Yuanyuan Qiu , Lilly Pang , Steve E. Hrudey , X. Chris Le


Received September 03, 2022,Revised , Accepted October 04, 2022, Available online October 12, 2022

Volume 130,2023,Pages 139-148

Wastewater surveillance (WS) of SARS-CoV-2 currently requires multiple steps and suffers low recoveries and poor sensitivity. Here, we report an improved analytical method with high sensitivity and recovery to quantify SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater. To improve the recovery, we concentrated SARS-CoV-2 viral particles and RNA from both the solid and aqueous phases of wastewater using an electronegative membrane (EM). The captured viral particles and RNA on the EM were incubated in our newly developed viral inactivation and RNA preservation (VIP) buffer. Subsequently, the RNA was concentrated on magnetic beads and inhibitors removed by washing. Without eluting, the RNA on the magnetic beads was directly detected using reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR). Analysis of SARS-CoV-2 pseudovirus (SARS-CoV-2 RNA in a noninfectious viral coat) spiked to wastewater samples showed an improved recovery of 80%. Analysis of 120 wastewater samples collected twice weekly between May 2021 and February 2022 from two wastewater treatment plants showed 100% positive detection, which agreed with the results independently obtained by a provincial public health laboratory. The concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in these wastewater samples ranged from 2.4×102 to 2.9×106 copies per 100 mL of wastewater. Our method's capability of detecting trace and diverse concentrations of SARS-CoV-2 in complex wastewater samples is attributed to the enhanced recovery of SARS-CoV-2 RNA and efficient removal of PCR inhibitors. The improved method for the recovery and detection of viral RNA in wastewater is important for wastewater surveillance, complementing clinical diagnostic tests for public health protection.

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