Australian researchers have developed a sewage submarine that can be planted in wastewater and more accurately detect how many people in an area are shedding COVID-19.
It is hoped the major development will revolutionise wastewater detection and provide a boost for authorities tracking possible infections of the deadly virus.
The cost effective and portable device, also dubbed the torpedo passive sampler, was created by lead researchers at Victoria’s Monash University.
It is encased in a 3D printed shell and constructed with cheap and basic materials including cotton buds, medical swabs, and lab grade electronegative membranes.
The device boldly goes where nobody wants to, navigating through sewage systems to detect COVID-19 fragments in communities, with researchers declaring it successful in tracing fragments in Victoria.
“These results indicate that cotton buds, electronegative membranes and gauzes can be used as passive samplers of SARS-CoV-2 in human wastewater,” lead research author Associate Professor David McCarthy said.
He said the device provided a cheap, safe and easy alternative to traditional wastewater sampling.
“The process of sewerage monitoring is really difficult, especially in countries like Australia where very few people are infected with COVID-19,” the academic said.
“This means we’re trying to find maybe one or two infected stool samples in a pool of tens of thousands of healthy samples. This is why efficient and portable methods are needed.”
The torpedo is small, allowing it to be deployed into targeted tested areas where people are likely to be shedding the virus, such as an aged care facility or a particular suburb.
Made with $20 worth of materials, it is also significantly cheaper than each automatic sampler, which Associate Professor McCarthy said costs $5000.
“This discovery is exciting and groundbreaking as it can fundamentally change the way we detect critical virus spread in our community, and can help with targeted health care actions,” he said.
“Plus, we can also offer these solutions to communities globally that are in desperate need of cheap and easy to use methods to help curb the spread of this virus.”
In just five months, more than 2,500 of the sewage submarines have been exported and used across Australia as well as New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands.
The design will also be available in the United States and Indonesia.