Development of a reverse transcriptase digital droplet polymerase chain reaction-based approach for SARS-CoV-2 variant surveillance in wastewater.

Publication date: Mar 01, 2024

An urgent need for effective surveillance strategies arose due to the global emergence of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Although vaccines and antivirals are available, concerns persist about the evolution of new variants with potentially increased infectivity, transmissibility, and immune evasion. Therefore, variant monitoring is crucial for public health decision-making. Wastewater-based surveillance has proven to be an effective tool to monitor SARS-CoV-2 variants within populations. Specific SARS-CoV-2 variants are detected and quantified in wastewater in this study using a reverse transcriptase digital droplet polymerase chain reaction (RT-ddPCR) approach. The 11 designed assays were first validated in silico using a substantial dataset of high-quality SARS-CoV-2 genomes to ensure comprehensive variant coverage. The assessment of the sensitivity and specificity with reference material showed the capability of the developed assays to reliably identify target mutations while minimizing false positives and false negatives. The applicability of the assays was evaluated using wastewater samples from a wastewater treatment plant in Ghent, Belgium. The quantification of the specific mutations linked to the variants of concern present in these samples was calculated using these assays based on the detection of single mutations, which confirms their use for real-world variant surveillance. In conclusion, this study provides an adaptable protocol to monitor SARS-CoV-2 variants in wastewater with high sensitivity and specificity. Its potential for broader application in other viral surveillance contexts highlights its added value for rapid response to emerging infectious diseases. PRACTITIONER POINTS: Robust RT-ddPCR methodology for specific SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern detection in wastewater. Rigorous validation that demonstrates high sensitivity and specificity. Demonstration of real-world applicability using wastewater samples. Valuable tool for rapid response to emerging infectious diseases.

Concepts Keywords
Adaptable mutation
Antivirals RT-ddPCR
Belgium SARS-CoV-2
Coronavirus variant detection
Transcriptase VOC
wastewater surveillance


Type Source Name
disease VO effective
disease VO Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2
disease IDO infectivity
disease IDO quality
disease VO protocol
disease MESH emerging infectious diseases

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