Quite possibly, according to an interdisciplinary team of Stanford researchers who are investigating and developing new tools to track the DNA of pathogens in wastewater. Their project is described in a recent Stanford News article.
"We hope to prove that wastewater monitoring can help protect community health," said Craig Criddle, PhD, a professor of civil and environmental engineering.
The researchers plan to test samples for pathogen DNA from both known and unknown bacteria and viruses. Early pathogen detection — of the flu virus, for example — could bolster a public health response. Wastewater could also be used to monitor antibiotic resistance. "We like to call [wastewater] a sentinel for public health," Criddle said.
The researchers will be collecting samples from the William and Cloy Codiga Resource Recovery Center, a new Stanford campus facility for testing wastewater recovery technology.
The project will be challenging. Wastewater flows are highly variable, dropping off sharply in the middle of the night. And pathogens from a person who lives far from the plant may be more dispersed, making them harder to identify. The team plans on developing methods to addresses these problems, and they hope their efforts could eventually be replicated elsewhere.