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Introducing passive samplers to groundwater viral testing

Researchers from the Laboratory of Virus Contaminants of Water and Food (VIRCONT) –which belongs to the University of Barcelona –, with expertise in detecting and quantifying viral contaminants in all types of bodies of water, will work on optimising passive sampling methods for detecting viruses in groundwater. We talked to the researchers Sílvia Bofill-Mas and Marta Rusiñol about their contribution to the UPWATER project.

VIRCONT is responsible for optimising and validating the relatively new passive sampler technology, with the aim of detecting and characterising viruses in groundwater. This approach represents a shift, as passive samplers have predominantly been utilised in wastewater applications until now. Rusiñol and Bofill-Mas will evaluate the feasibility of employing passive samplers as a substitute for the conventional ultrafiltration method, which they describe as “cumbersome” in several aspects.

Passive samplers as the way forward

Following the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, Rusiñol and Bofill-Mas emphasise the need for advancing research in detecting viral contaminants. They aim to leverage the urgency surrounding the travel pathways of health hazards, similar to SARS-CoV-2, to propel the development of tools and techniques in this field.

Rusiñol explains that traditional viral analysis typically involves handling large sample volumes, making the processes both costly and time-consuming. Additionally, the current methods require exclusive operation by professional staff, unlike passive samplers that offer a more accessible alternative.

According to the researchers, detecting viruses in groundwater is more complex compared to detecting them in wastewater because low concentrations of viruses are expected to occur in groundwater. A high number of samples should be tested to obtain representative results. This can be overcome through collaboration with other UPWATER partners. Rusiñol specifically highlights the interest and involvement of Greek colleagues in the viral passive samplers. This project serves as a platform for exchanging information and knowledge regarding the selection of suitable samplers.

Setting a new standard

The researchers emphasize the importance of fostering connections. They advocate for effective coordination among all European and Australian partners, as well as their stakeholders, to facilitate meaningful discussions on improving systems and reevaluating established beliefs.

Both researchers envision passive samplers becoming standard, user-friendly, and affordable tools as part of monitoring strategies. To achieve this, these sampling methods must undergo validation across Europe and potentially even further afield. ‘Our part as in UPWATER might be quite small, but we see the potential to achieve this goal together with all partners.’

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