Who is Biobot Analytics?
- Founded at MIT, Biobot Analytics is a wastewater epidemiology company that analyzes sewage to provide public health analytics. We have worked in hundreds of communities across every US state and have partnered with the CDC, the World Bank, and others.
What is wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE)?
- Wastewater contains valuable information on human health because viruses, bacteria, and chemical metabolites are excreted in urine and stool. Wastewater epidemiology is the science of analyzing sewage to better understand the public health impact of certain pathogens and chemical compounds within a population.
What can wastewater analysis detect?
- Wastewater analysis can detect a broad range of biological and chemical markers, including SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, the influenza virus, high risk substances (such as opioids), and more.
How does sampling with Biobot work?
- Samplers (typically located at a wastewater treatment plant or manhole) collect 24-hour composite samples of preferably raw influent (untreated wastewater).
- Samples are packaged in our pre-made kits, then sent via Fed-Ex overnight shipping to our lab in Cambridge, MA (using pre-paid shipping labels).
- Our lab analyzes the samples and sends reports 1-3 business days later.
- Our Covid-19 report provides an overview of samples’ SARS-CoV-2 concentrations, their trends over time, and how they compare to other samples in our database.
What are the advantages of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE)?
Wastewater data is:
- Equitable: WBE captures anyone who uses a bathroom. It does not rely on an individual’s access to (or willingness to pursue) healthcare, providing a holistic and inclusive view of epidemiological trends.
- Anonymized: Wastewater data represents an aggregate sample of all human waste in a community. It is inherently anonymized and cannot be traced back to individuals.
- Cost-Effective: One sample is representative of an entire community (e.g. a town or city).
- Comprehensive: WBE is particularly well-suited to mitigate outbreaks caused by diseases with nonspecific symptoms and/or a pre-symptomatic shedding period (e.g. Covid-19), or diseases spread primarily by asymptomatic carriers (e.g. Hepatitis C).
- For Covid-19: All active infections are captured by wastewater analysis, regardless of one’s vaccination status or the presence of symptoms.
- Predictive: WBE has the potential to definitively and rapidly identify new emerging infectious diseases, as well as pathogens intentionally or accidentally released into the population.
- For Covid-19: Wastewater data can be a “leading indicator” of infection rates because infected individuals shed the SARS-CoV-2 virus in their stool upon infection and often before symptoms surface (see visualization below). Read our blog post here for more.
How well does Biobot data reflect Covid-19 cases?
- Very well. Throughout the pandemic, our dataset—drawn from large and small communities across the country—accurately reflected both localized peaks and nationwide surges.
- When the availability of reliable clinical reporting fluctuated during the Omicron wave, our data showed much higher levels of Covid-19 than reported cases. As asymptomatic cases, at-home tests, testing fatigue, and other factors impact clinical reporting in subsequent waves, wastewater data will continue to be a strong, independent (yet complementary) indicator of the total number of infections.
Which variants of SARS-CoV-2 can Biobot detect?
- Our qPCR assay detects all known variants (and the original strain), and our genomic sequencing methods can delineate variant-specific data.
Do variants skew the data?
- We have not seen evidence of any substantial change in SARS-CoV-2 fecal shedding due to any of the variants, including Delta and Omicron. In fact, wastewater data provided an estimate of clinical case under-reporting during the Omicron wave.
Does vaccination affect wastewater data?
- No. The vaccine is not a live virus, does not cause an infection, and is not shed in stool. Vaccination and boosting reduces the total number of infections in a community, but we have not seen evidence that vaccination substantially changed the per capita fecal shedding of the virus. Read our blog post here for more.
Do reinfections skew the data?
- No. From the point of view of wastewater, they are the same as a normal infection.
How does Biobot normalize for inflow and infiltration?
- We normalize the SARS-CoV-2 viral concentration to a fecal strength indicator to account for differences in dilution or fecal content between samples. The fecal indicator we use is the pepper mild mottle virus (PMMV), an RNA virus that is commonly excreted in stool.
Can wastewater analysis be applied to local settings, like buildings?
- Yes–we monitor Covid-19 within many universities, businesses, and congregate living facilities nationwide.
- Our building-level analysis is a cost-effective, unobtrusive way to reveal active SARS-CoV-2 infections in ways that other building-specific mitigation strategies (e.g. health screenings) cannot.
What are Biobot’s methods?