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NMU students testing wastewater for COVID-19

Effort part of a statewide monitoring program involving colleges and health departments.
Published: Nov. 27, 2020 at 5:51 PM EST
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MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Three Northern Michigan University students and two faculty members are taking part in the COVID Wastewater Monitoring Program, a $10 million statewide, grant-funded pilot project coordinating colleges and universities with local health departments, to find out if traces of COVID-19 can be found in wastewater.

Josh Sharp, an Associate Professor of Biology, says he and his students have verified that the virus is present.

“We have lots of raw data,” Sharp said, “and we are processing that. That will soon be uploaded to the local and state health departments.”

The project could serve as an early warning system to slow the virus’s spread.

The team is using a method similar to one used to detect E. Coli. It is called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), a technique involving molecular microbiology that amplifies selected DNA molecules.

“We are using a specialized version here, which is called Digital Droplet PCR,” Sharp explained. “It essentially breaks down the PCR reaction to very small nanodroplets and you can measure DNA amplification by looking at the fluorescence in each little nanodroplet.”

Seniors Katie Cothran and Molly Cormier say working on the project has turned them into frontline workers before they even graduate from school.

“It makes me even more motivated to go to medical school,” Cothran stated, “and try to find more solutions to pandemics like this and preventing the spread of germs in general.”

“The real world implications of what we’re doing here,” said Cormier, “just have the longest lasting effects on our lives and the people who are impacted by our research.”

Sharp and his students hope to get the results they are looking for, as all of us await a vaccine.

The pilot program is expected to conclude at the end of December.

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