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The University of Valencia researches the potential for environmental transmission of the coronavirus

  • Science Park
  • May 13rd, 2020
Pilar Domingo
Pilar Domingo

The Ministry of Science and Innovation, through the Covid-19 Fund of the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII), funds a study aimed at determining the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in environmental samples, as well as its potential for indirect transmission. The project is coordinated from the Institute for Integrative Systems Biology, in the Science Park of the University of Valencia, and the results will provide valuable information for the management of the epidemic.

Led by Pilar Domingo, researcher at the University of Valencia at the Institute for Integrative Systems Biology I2SysBio (UV-CSIC), the work will analyse the transmission potential of the virus in the environmental and social conditions of Spain; it will investigate wastewater treatment plants, the virus release through the intestine, as well as its presence and behaviour on common surfaces – plastics, stainless steel or glass, among others.

Although SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses are transmitted mainly directly between individuals during epidemic phases, the possible permanence of the virus in the environment has the potential to cause new outbreaks despite the mitigation efforts displayed. “Determining the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the environment is essential for an adequate control of the epidemic beyond the actions aimed at reducing the direct transmission of the virus”, explains Pilar Domingo. “Assessing the potential indirect transmission through surfaces, water or food will be key when making short-term decisions that help control the virus and minimise the risk of new outbreaks appearing”, she says.

The I2SysBio Experimental Evolution of Viruses group, headed by geneticist Rafael Sanjuán and to which Pilar Domingo belongs, will provide an epidemiological service to the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Climate Emergency and Ecological Transition of the Valencian Government, through the General Directorate of Water and the Public Wastewater Sanitation Company (EPSAR), in terms of environmental virology. This cooperation will materialise shortly by signing an agreement between the Ministry and three Valencian public universities – University of Valencia, Jaume I University and Miguel Hernández University –, to carry out a program for monitoring and early detection of the presence of genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in the wastewater of the entire territory of the Valencian Community.

The project now subsidised by the COVID Fund also includes researchers from the Valencia La Fe Health Research Institute, the FISABIO Foundation and the CSIC.

To date, the COVID Fund managed by the Carlos III Health Institute has approved 117 research proposals to improve the management of the coronavirus, with an investment of almost 22 million euros. The projects focus on the investigation of the immune response, the biology, epidemiology or clinical manifestations of the virus, the search for possible drugs and vaccine development, the stratification of patients according to the prognosis of the disease and the search for new solutions of public health to improve control of the pandemic, among other issues.