Impact of sample clarification by size exclusion on virus detection and diversity in wastewater-based epidemiology


The use of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) for early detection of virus circulation and response during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic increased interest in and use of virus concentration protocols that are quick, scalable, and efficient. One such protocol involves sample clarification by size fractionation using either low-speed centrifugation to produce a clarified supernatant or membrane filtration to produce an initial filtrate depleted of solids, eukaryotes and bacterial present in wastewater (WW), followed by concentration of virus particles by ultrafiltration of the above. While this approach has been successful in identifying viruses from WW, it assumes that majority of the viruses of interest should be present in the fraction obtained by ultrafiltration of the initial filtrate, with negligible loss of viral particles and viral diversity. We used WW samples collected in a population of ~700,000 in southwest USA between October 2019 and March 2021, targeting three non-enveloped viruses (enteroviruses [EV], canine picornaviruses [CanPV], and human adenovirus 41 [Ad41]), to evaluate whether size fractionation of WW prior to ultrafiltration leads to appreciable differences in the virus presence and diversity determined. We showed that virus presence or absence in WW samples in both portions (filter trapped solids [FTS] and filtrate) are not consistent with each other. We also found that in cases where virus was detected in both fractions, virus diversity (or types) captured either in FTS or filtrate were not consistent with each other. Hence, preferring one fraction of WW over the other can undermine the capacity of WBE to function as an early warning system and negatively impact the accurate representation of virus presence and diversity in a population.

Competing Interest Statement

R.U.H. is the founder of OneWaterOneHealth, a non-profit project of the Arizona State University Foundation. R.U.H. and E.M.D. are co-founders of AquaVitas, LLC, an ASU startup company operating in the field of wastewater-based epidemiology.

Funding Statement

The research reported in this publication was supported by the National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U01LM013129 to RUH, MS and AV. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Data Availability

The sequences described in this study are being deposited in SRA and GenBank.

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