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Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have been working on developing methods for SARS-Cov2 RNA monitoring in wastewater, as well as for the identification of new SARS-Cov2 variants.

This ongoing investigation on the detection of coronavirus variants in wastewater is led by Prof. Nick Gilbert at the MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh. The team have broad experience in molecular biology techniques, including next generation sequencing. Importantly, they started screening for SARS-Cov2 as a node for NHS Lothian in Summer 2020, and since have developed and implemented methodologies for screening saliva for SARS-Cov2 as part of a project called TestEd .

The Biological Research Data Management (Bio_RDM) team based in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Edinburgh is involved in this project providing expert data curation, including depositing of data into online repositories, as required for the ‘Open’ component of this project. They are also helping the research team to organize data in a FAIR (​Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) format and prepare final protocols for dissemination.

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On request from Scottish Water, the Centre of Expertise for Water (CREW) funded a pilot project that aimed to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA could be detected in municipal wastewater from Scottish communities and whether the detection of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA in municipal wastewater had the potential to be used to track community infection. Dr Alex Corbishley led the research from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and CREW engaged the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to ensure that the methods developed could ultimately be adopted by SEPA as part of their national (Scottish) programme of surveillance and analysis. CREW invited experts such as Dr Michael Gormley (Heriot Watt University) to join the project Steering Group and informed the Scottish Government of key developments to ensure project outcomes were shared widely. Source

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The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) began exploratory work to pinpoint fragments of coronavirus’ ribonucleic acid (RNA) in local waste water samples in May 2020. They worked with the backing of Scottish Government and Public Health Scotland (PHS), alongside Scottish Water, CREW (Centre of expertise for Waters) and academic partners from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and Heriot Watt University.

Sampling has been ongoing with more and more sites being added to the monitoring network over time. They have been sharing data with Public Health Scotland, Scottish Government, the Office for National Statistics and the UK Health Security Agency. A group at Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS) uses SEPA data to regularly inform the Scottish Government and feeds into a number of regular reports.

For more information on SEPA coronavirus monitoring in wastewater, click here