New Ways to Fight the Coronavirus

Can waste water samples help combat the coronavirus: It sounds peculiar, but they can. Learn how such samples can be used to predict infection events and hence allow preventive measures to be taken.


Prof. Susanne Lackner’s research team at Darmstadt Technical University in Hessen knows how this works.

The scientists have been evaluating waste water samples from the city of Frankfurt since June 2020. Starting in April, they will also be checking Wiesbaden’s waste water for SARS-CoV-2 viruses and associated variants. The principle behind the project is that people infected with the coronavirus shed it in their feces, and the DNA from the virus can be detected using established PCR techniques even before the first symptoms occur. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is used to amplify DNA fragments in the laboratory. It could possibly help capture infection events in the drainage area more accurately and rapidly than can be done with conventional infection statistics.

The objective was therefore to find an easily applicable way of monitoring waste water for SARS-CoV-2 that could add value to analyzing infection events. “We were able to map the trend using our quantitative tests 5 to 10 days before cases were actually reported”, said Prof. Lackner. The project was sponsored by Hessen’s Economics Ministry and was co-initiated by Hessen Trade & Invest (HTAI).

Dr. Rainer Waldschmidt, HTAI’s CEO, said: “We are bringing companies and researchers together with political decision-makers to discuss the challenges involved in setting up a waste water monitoring system and find to solutions.” Thus, in February, companies and researchers in the areas of waste water treatment, PCR analysis, and data sciences attended an event entitled “Coronaviruses in waste water – Monitoring SARS-CoV-2 in the sewer system”.

Good news in the fight against COVID-19 is also coming from Marburg. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has officially approved Biontech’s manufacturing facility in Hessen. This means that the facility can start rolling out delivery of the first vaccines. The goal is to produce 250 million doses in Marburg in the first half of this year. When running at full capacity, the plant can manufacture up to a billion shots of the vaccine a year. This means it will be one of the largest production facilities for mRNA vaccines in the world.