Ginkgo and SFO Launch New Program to Test Airplane Wastewater for COVID-19 Variants

May 15 2023

Ginkgo Biosecurity, in conjunction with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is working with the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) for a pilot program to monitor wastewater samples for variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. SFO is the first airport to utilize triturators for collecting wastewater samples to monitor and track COVID-19 variants with the purpose of identifying pathogens.

“Biology doesn’t respect borders, and airports and other ports of entry are critical nodes for monitoring the spread of pathogens,” said Matt McKnight, General Manager, Biosecurity at Ginkgo Bioworks in a press release.

At the airport, samples are collected with an automatic sampling device connected to a triturator – a kind of central repository for waste in the terminal that collects wastewater from multiple planes. A single sample of this mixed wastewater is then packaged and sent to a laboratory for SARS-CoV-2 testing. Positive samples are further analyzed via genomic sequencing to identify any variants.

This approach can be challenging, said Ginkgo’s head of Bioinformatics Casandra Philipson to Science News. However, simply seeing certain variants pop up in the data will warn health officials about what to watch out for, which can help public health experts make informed decisions.

 Looking toward the future of international biosecurity

With the declaration of the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11, we believe there is an imperative to continue to build on the technologies that were implemented throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, such as wastewater monitoring, which is a key part of the future of global biosecurity infrastructure.

“Putting in place these indirect mechanisms that can give you a sense of what’s going on in the world are really important, as other forms of testing start falling off,” said Ginkgo Biosecurity’s Director of Business Development Andrew Franklin to The New York Times.

To learn more about how Ginkgo is expanding our airport wastewater monitoring programs to further develop international biosecurity infrastructure, please contact us!

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