Wastewater collaboration between NT Health and Charles Darwin

By Tom Ravlic

March 23, 2022

Microbiologists at Charles Darwin University have tested NT’s wastewater for coronavirus. (reewungjunerr/Adobe)

Health bureaucrats in the Northern Territory are reaping the benefits of work done by microbiologists at Charles Darwin University (CDU) who have spent their time testing the wastewater up North for traces of the coronavirus.

The state-of-the-art laboratory in which the work is being done is a part of the Environmental Chemistry and Microbiology Unit (ECMU) in the Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods’ (RIEL) at CDU, with the facility receiving support from both the Northern Territory government and the university itself.

Senior Microbiologists Dr Anna Padovan and Dr Susan Pizzutto from CDU have been testing wastewater in their labs at CDU since January this year. The new facilities for wastewater testing means NT Health is able to act more quickly on any results received.

Results can be sent from CDU’s testing facilities to NT Health within 24 hours.

“By bringing the testing right here to Darwin, NT Health no longer has to wait for samples to be flown interstate,” Padovan said.

“The capacity to test wastewater for COVID-19 demonstrates a small fraction of the research capability at CDU and is yet another demonstration of the benefits of universities and governments working together,” she said.

How does the testing occur? The CDU team gets wastewater samples that are then subjected to some extraction processes to get the samples ready for testing.

Researchers take the samples and then use PCR tests — the same technology that is used to test people that have COVID-like symptoms across Australia – to determine whether the samples have traces of the coronavirus in them.

Pizzutto said results obtained from testing wastewater enable NT Health to monitor coronavirus trends across the territory.

“By mapping long-term trends of COVID-19 in community wastewater, authorities can be informed as to how the pandemic is tracking,” Pizzutto said.

There are several wastewater sampling sites that are used for the purposes of the COVID-19 surveillance program. The Greater Darwin area has nine sites in its own right.


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