Queens College receives federal funding for wastewater epidemiology training lab – The Knight News


Queens College will receive federal funding of $1,850,000 to establish a Wastewater Epidemiology Training Laboratory (WETLAB) through community project funding secured by U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-Queens). The WETLAB project will be used to research and develop strategies to detect harmful pathogens such as coronavirus (COVID-19), cholera, etc. in the city’s wastewater. Federal funds for Project WETLAB are part of $10 million for Community project funding secured by U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-Queens) for ten projects throughout Queens. Other projects Rep. Grace Meng has proposed with community leaders and organizations include Adult Education Services for Immigrants, the Ohel Kissena Blvd Residence Rehabilitation Project, and the NYC H&H Transcranial Magnetic Therapy Suite. Elmhurst.

WETLAB funding will be used to support wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) training programs. Queens College QC’s WETLAB will work to develop strategies that will make detecting the presence of dangerous pathogens in sewer wastewater easier, cost-effective and accurate. This funding also means that Queens College QC students from diverse backgrounds interested in WBE will gain training and experience in high-level epidemiological research activities.

The WETLAB project at Queens College QC was designed and will be led by John Dennehy, Professor in the Department of Biology at Queens College QC. The Knight News has contacted Professor Dennehy to find out more about the exciting news. Professor Dennehy tells us: “Since infected people excrete SARS-CoV-2 in faeces, the WBE has proven useful in monitoring the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 variants in communities. Levels of SARS-CoV-2 in sewage closely track clinically diagnosed cases in the same areas. Additionally, WBE can alert authorities to the presence of new variants of concern. For example, a sample taken from New York City sewage on November 21, 2021 by the Dennehy laboratory tested positive for the concerning Omicron variant. 10 days before to the first known clinically confirmed case in the United States. The Dennehy lab also tracked ‘cryptic’ SARS-CoV-2 lineages not detected in patient samples since January 2021.

A group of scientists from various universities, including Professor Dennehy and Professor Monica Trujillo of Queensborough Community College, CUNY, worked on models of COVID-19 in New York’s wastewater. Looking at the samples and data they collected and curated in November 2021 and the data they curated, they recognized the distinct Omicron variant mutations in their samples. Interestingly, these samples were taken before the news about Omicron broke. The team of researchers discovered these strange mutations and unique sequences in sewage for some time. Although there is no evidence that these strange mutations pose serious health risks, these pathogen sequences remain unknown and mysterious.

What Professor John Dennehy and the findings of his colleagues prove is the value of in developing community-wide pathogen monitoring through wastewater detection. Future discoveries may even change the present and future of pandemics. Needless to say, all congressional districts can benefit from the results of this helpful research. Professor Dennehy told The Knight News: “WBE promises to be an effective strategy for monitoring other pathogens as well, including influenza, hepatitis, polio and even antibiotic resistant bacteria. As such, there is a growing need for WBE-trained personnel to facilitate surveillance programs in government agencies, hospitals, businesses and NGOs.

Federal funding for community projects proposed by Representative Grace Meng will clearly help the respective constituents. For Queens College QC, WETLAB funding will create a pathway to well-paying jobs for its research students. The funding is especially important given that Queens College QC, along with other CUNY colleges, remains the only institution in New York State able to provide these research opportunities to low-income students, especially students from low-income color. Professor Dennehy believes the WETLAB funding is an example that “establishes Queens College as an institution that supports the cutting-edge research and technology development needed to solve the fundamental problems facing New York residents”. He sees the opportunity as “another example” of Queens College QC, “despite its modest tuition fees”, providing “its students with a high-quality education that prepares them to become leaders in STEM careers”.


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