Developing biosensors for SARS-CoV-2 wastewater-based epidemiology: a systematic review of trends, limitations and future perspectives

Christopher C. Azubuike, Fay Couceiro, Samuel C. Robson, Maya Z. Piccinni, Joy E.M. Watts, John B. Williams, Anastasia J. Callaghan, Thomas P. Howard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalLiterature reviewpeer-review

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Wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) permits the sustainable surveillance of pathogens in large populations and does not discriminate between symptomatic and asymptomatic groups. WBE allows health authorities and policymakers to make swift decisions to limit the impact of local and regional disease outbreaks, minimise the spread of infection and mitigate the effects of pathogen importation. Biosensors are an exciting addition to conventional WBE analytical approaches. Combined with sentinel surveillance programs, biosensors can be reactive to novel variants of a virus in the community. However, progress developing biosensors for wastewater surveillance is severely limited compared to advances in clinical diagnostics, with a lack of well-developed biosensors currently being available. Whilst the field of biosensors is vast, this review focuses on trends in monitoring SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater over a key period (2020–2021). We explore the complexities involved in sampling within wastewater networks, the options for target selection, and reflect on the ethical considerations and limitations of this approach by highlighting the complex transdisciplinary connections needed. The outlook for WBE biosensors is assessed to be on a positive trajectory as current technical challenges are overcome. Finally, we outline the current status and where further development is needed to have a systematic feedback mechanism which would allow wastewater biosensors to be kept current and relevant to emergent pathogens.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16761
Number of pages23
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2022


  • biosensor
  • COVID-19
  • epidemiology
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • surveillance
  • transdisciplinary
  • wastewater
  • WBE
  • UKRI
  • BB/V017209/1
  • MRC

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