Low-cost sensor developed to detect COVID-19 in wastewater


Researchers from the University of Strathclyde in United Kingdom and India’s IIT Bombay have jointly developed a low-cost sensor that can detect fragments of the virus responsible for COVID-19 in wastewater

The researchers had tested the sensor on the wastewater collected from a sewage treatment plant in Mumbai, which was spiked with SARS-Cov-2 RNA.

The technique can help identify areas where cases are increasing and allow for targeted action. The method is applicable to other virus outbreaks as well. 


The development will pave the way for health officials to get a better understanding of how prevalent the disease is in a larger area.

The technique can be used to enable widespread monitoring of COVID-19 prevalence in low- and middle-income countries, which struggle to conduct mass human testing.

Key Highlights 

• The low-cost sensor has been developed by researchers from the University of Strathclyde and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay.

• The sensor can be used along with portable equipment that uses regular Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test to detect the COVID-19 virus.

• It does not require the expensive chemicals and lab infrastructure that are needed for real-time quantitative PCR tests.

• The sensor was tested with the wastewater collected from a sewage treatment plant in Mumbai spiked with SARS-Cov-2 Ribonucleic Acid (RNA).

• The sensor was successfully able to detect genetic material at concentrations as low as 10 picograms per microlitre.

• The researchers had published their findings in the journal, Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical.


Several low and middle-income countries have been struggling to track COVID-19 due to limited access to testing facilities. 

Hence, looking for traces of the virus in wastewater is expected to enable public health officials to get a better understanding of how prevalent the disease is in a larger area. 

According to Dr. Andy Ward, Chancellor’s Fellow in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, “Testing of wastewater for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid is already widely recognised as a tool to identify areas where the case numbers are likely to be increasing and therefore allow more targeted action to be taken to limit the viral spread in specific regions.”

Dr. Siddharth Tallur, Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at IIT Bombay, said that the method is not just applicable to SARS-CoV-2, it could be applied to any other virus so it’s very versatile.

“In the future, we’ll focus on optimising the assay further to increase accuracy and also integrate the assay with a portable platform to handle both PCR reaction and electrochemical measurement,” he added. 

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