Scientists find coronavirus in Spanish wastewater collected in March 2019

Henrietta Brewer
June 30, 2020

Authorship and funding: This work was funded by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, both part of the National Institutes of Health; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; the Center for Research for Influenza Pathogenesis; the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; the Centers of Excellence for Integrative Biology of Emerging Infectious Diseases of the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (France); F. Hoffmann-LaRoche AG; Vir Biotechnology, Centre for Integrative Biological Signalling Studies (CIBSS), European Research Council (ERC) and the Ron Conway Family.

One of the early findings about Sars-CoV-2 is that it is found in the faeces of infected people.

But the fact that these bits of coronavirus RNA can be found in untreated wastewater (known as "influent") is useful for tracking outbreaks.

To date, the novel coronavirus has infected over ten million people and killed almost half a million around the world, according to figures from the World Health Organization.


As a result, many countries, including Spain, are now monitoring wastewater for traces of coronavirus.

"This is a virus that is excreted in the stool. which goes into wastewater".

For the study, researchers were examining samples from two large wastewater treatment plants in Barcelona to detect the evolution of the virus in the city. This led to the discovery of the traces of virus from the sample collected on March 12, 2019.

They found evidence of the virus on January 15, 2020, 41 days before the first official case was declared on February 25, 2020. The DNA is then "amplified" in successive cycles until key bits of genetic material that are known to only exist in a particular virus are plentiful enough to be detected with a fluorescent probe.


Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. "Drugs have already been developed to target some of the kinases we identified, so we urge clinical researchers to test the antiviral effects of these drugs in their trials", says Beltrao.

Bosch said that because frozen samples from 2019 were remains of samples that had been tested for other viruses, the results are subject to further analysis.

There are several explanations for this positive result. Attendees assessed efforts to better understand the implications of serology test results, to produce and validate test kits, and to quantify undetected cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection. This sometimes happens in labs as positive samples are regularly being handled, and it can be hard to prevent very small traces of positive sample contaminating others.

Further tests need to be carried out to conclude that the sample contains Sars-CoV-2, and a finding of that magnitude would need to be replicated separately by independent laboratories.


This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round gold objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19. It was nine months before the novel coronavirus was identified in China.

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