Published on 03 Mar 2021

Identifying COVID-19 outbreaks: Prof Shane Snyder

NTU's Prof Shane Snyder develops a virus monitoring system in sewage to rapidly detect COVID-19 outbreaks in the population.

As the Executive Director of NTU’s Nanyang Environment and Water Research InstituteProf Shane Snyder is using the Institute’s expertise in wastewater management and knowledge of Singapore’s complex sewage collection system to monitor the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the population.

“By monitoring sewage from various urban areas or complexes such as residential blocks, dormitories or medical facilities, we aim to rapidly identify COVID-19 outbreaks without invasive procedures involving human interactions, and in a very cost-effective manner,” says Prof Snyder of NTU’s effort in wastewater-based epidemiology—a promising new methodology for early detection of viral outbreaks at the population level.

By advancing the methodology’s sensitivity, Prof Snyder hopes to achieve a warning level for SARS-CoV-2 prevalence of 0.001% or better—a level equivalent to detecting SARS-CoV-2 infection even if there is only one case per 100,000 residents.

“An Australian study, one of the first studies published on SARS-CoV-2 wastewater-based epidemiology, had been able to achieve an estimated warning level of 0.028%, meaning that infection in the population could only be detected if at least one in 3,500 people is infected, “ says Prof Snyder. “To achieve lower warning levels, our research will rely on more sensitive PCR assays covering a wider range of SARS-CoV-2 target genes, studies on the decay of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, as well as model optimisation,” he adds.

Prof Snyder, NTU President’s Chair in Water Technologies, previously helped WHO develop guidelines for the production of safe drinking water. As a globally renowned expert on the identification, monitoring and health relevance assessment of emerging water pollutants and pathogens, he has also been consulted by the United States (US) Environmental Protection Agency, US National Academy of Sciences, and US Congress.