House Grown: Ag know-how used for wastewater COVID detection


April Hettinger of CBS 13 explores this modern approach to fighting the virus

YUMA, Arizona (KYMA, KECY) – Agriculture is already doing what it can to provide the nation with healthy crops during the pandemic, but it is now going way beyond that to help the community get rid of the COVID virus before that The public sees no symptoms.

The University of Arizona, the local Ag industry, and the community have put their heads together to capitalize on Ag technology. Environmental experts who used to test microorganisms in ag for food safety are now applying these skills to the current pandemic.

Dr. Bradley Schmitz, environmental microbiologist at the Yuma Competence Center for Desert Agriculture (YCEDA), has nearly a decade of experience in detecting and measuring viruses in sewage systems.

“We know that people release SARS-CoV-2 RNA in their feces, and then we can detect it in their wastewater,” explained Dr. Schmitz. “That gives us a measure of how common COVID-19 is.”

Sewage Epidemiology was created by YCEDA to use the Yuma Agricultural Center’s molecular biology laboratory to detect COVID before symptoms appear.

“We concentrate the virus from this sample, remove any other nasty things that are in the wastewater, and then use technology to count each virus,” said Dr. Schmitz.

This can also be done using sewage from a field of crops to look for bacteria such as E. coli.

They have run these tests across the community twice a week, especially in Ag companies, to make sure workers are healthy enough to produce much of the world’s food source.

“We want to make sure these farm workers are safe. Right? We want to make sure we can prevent or promote potential transmissions or outbreaks to ensure that the agribusiness can continue to have their workers on-site,” said Dr. Schmitz explained.

YCEDA received a $ 500,000 grant from the Arizona Department of Health to fund this project.

Yuma AG’s Datepac company had a small outbreak that was recognized early on.

“We tested the Datepac packaging line, which employs 200 people, and exactly the same thing happened,” said Paul Brierley, Executive Director of YCEDA. “We tested, there was no sign of the virus, and after Thanksgiving hiatus, we found it in the sewage, and basically the same thing happened in the dorms at Arizona Western College.

This type of molecular technology has been around for a decade, but it’s still in its infancy. In the future, it can be used to identify almost any disease or threat to the community.

Monday April 13th On your side, April Hettinger examines the process behind COVID detection of wastewater and how the local Ag community is helping.

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