RT-qPCR and ATOPlex sequencing for the sensitive detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA for wastewater surveillance

Document Type


Publication Date



During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, wastewater surveillance has become an important tool for monitoring the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) within communities. In particular, reverse transcription-quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) has been used to detect and quantify SARS-CoV-2 RNA in wastewater, while monitoring viral genome mutations requires separate approaches such as deep sequencing. A high throughput sequencing platform (ATOPlex) that uses a multiplex tiled PCR-based enrichment technique has shown promise in detecting variants of concern (VOC) while also providing virus quantitation data. However, detection sensitivities of both RT-qPCR and sequencing can be impacted through losses occurring during sample handling, virus concentration, nucleic acid extraction, and RT-qPCR. Therefore, process limit of detection (PLOD) assessments are required to estimate the gene copies of target molecule to attain specific probability of detection. In this study, we compare the PLOD of four RT-qPCR assays (US CDC N1 and N2, China CDC N and ORF1ab) for detection of SARS-CoV-2 to that of ATOPlex sequencing by seeding known concentrations of gamma-irradiated SARS-CoV-2 into wastewater. Results suggest that among the RT-qPCR assays, US CDC N1 was the most sensitive, especially at lower SARS-CoV-2 seed levels. However, when results from all RT-qPCR assays were combined, it resulted in greater detection rates than individual assays, suggesting that application of multiple assays is better suited for the trace detection of SARS-CoV-2 from wastewater samples. Furthermore, while ATOPlex offers a promising approach to SARS-CoV-2 wastewater surveillance, this approach appears to be less sensitive compared to RT-qPCR under the experimental conditions of this study, and may require further refinements. Nonetheless, the combination of RT-qPCR and ATOPlex may be a powerful tool to simultaneously detect/quantify SARS-CoV-2 RNA and monitor emerging VOC in wastewater samples.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

Water research

First Page


This document is currently not available here.