LSU researchers to test campus wastewater for COVID-19 cases
For the last several months, researchers from the LSU College of Engineering and School of Veterinary Medicine have tested wastewater in various areas around East Baton Rouge Parish to track cases of coronavirus. What they have found, thus far, is that cases increased soon after Louisiana moved into Phase 2 and dropped after the city-parish instituted a mask-wearing mandate.
Now they will implement that research on the LSU campus to help determine numbers and location of cases.
“This innovative project is yet another example of how we’re putting the cutting-edge research of LSU faculty into action to help monitor and contain COVID-19, and it will be a great supplement to the many other preventative measures we’re taking to ensure our campus is as safe as it possibly can be for our students, faculty, and staff,” said LSU Interim President Thomas C. Galligan Jr.
The first step in the process is taking the flow-composited wastewater sample and pasteurizing it, followed by performing an RNA extraction. A reverse transcription is then conducted to obtain cDNA, followed by the qPCR detection of SARS-CoV-2, the official name for coronavirus. The testing is conducted at the GeneLab, a multi-faceted core laboratory directed by the Division of BioMMED at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine that engages in specific research and training projects.
For the LSU campus project, the researchers have designed a new sampling network that will target 350 to 500 students with each sample. The locations differ depending on the on-campus residence but will be scattered throughout campus. Samplers at the two large off-campus pumping stations are running and will continue to be analyzed to determine the total of amount of virus circulating on the campus.
“We will be testing every on-campus residence [dormitories and on-campus apartments],” said LSU Environmental Engineering Professor John Pardue. “Initially, we will monitor every location once per week. It takes two days to process each sample, so we will have the data the same week the samples are taken. We will continue indefinitely until the campus has the information needed. We will transmit the results to the campus team managing the pandemic response with recommendations based on the amount of virus detected.
“If there are elevated levels measured in the sewage, we can intervene with a more extensive individual testing program so students can be isolated to prevent the spread in any one location. We have months of experience measuring SARS-CoV-2 in Baton Rouge wastewater, so we understand the significance of the numbers that we measure using this technique. Since we are measuring everywhere, we will be able to determine the relative amount of infected students at each location. While we can estimate the number of infected students as one or five or 10 based on literature values, we really are doing the testing to support LSU’s individual medical testing plan.”
Pardue is joined on the project by LSU Veterinary Medicine Professors Konstantin “Gus” Kousoulas, Ramesh Subramanian, and Vladimir Chouljenko; and LSU Civil and Environmental Engineering Professors William Moe and Samuel Snow. LSU Facility Services also helped plan the on-campus network locations.