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Mapping the urban wastewater genome towards the understanding of human infectious disease


Wastewater surveillance falls within the broad category of environmental surveillance. It can assess the presence or quantity of a chemical or biological signal in a pooled sample of sewage, taken for example from the sewer network or a wastewater treatment plant, to obtain information on various aspects of public health and human behavior. 

Historically, it has been applied to monitor/detect pathogens transmitted by fecal or oral routes. The origin of wastewater surveillance one may argue that goes back to the mid 1800s in London, UK, whence John Snow first made the connection between water supply, its pollution by a cesspool and waterborne disease. During the industrial revolution similar observations were made in various other cities. The germ theory led to a new era of scientific enlightenment in wastewater science, with scientists looking into sewage not only for cholera but also for other pathogens, including poliovirus, hepatitis, influenza, and coxsackie viruses amongst others. Wastewater surveillance constituted a critical pillar of the worldwide initiative to eradicate polio. 

Wastewater surveillance presents undoubtedly an indicator of infectious disease transmission, and the COVID-19 pandemic has led to the broad adaptation of wastewater surveillance across the globe. Victor Hugo had already written in Les Misérables, that “the sewer is the conscience of the city”. The evolution we are currently seeing in the capabilities of genomics, bioinformatics, and computational methods, is increasingly contributing to our understanding of infectious diseases and, surely enough wastewater surveillance has an important role to play in that regard in the years to come.

New Content Item

Herein, Human Genomics seeks to create a collection of recent studies addressing various key questions in relation to mapping the wastewater genome towards the understanding of human infections disease (e.g., viruses, bacteria, antibiotic resistance bacteria, other microbes). Examples include:

• What infectious diseases have been detected in wastewater?
• What are the technical challenges of such systems in relation to sampling, analysis, and interpretation of results?
• Sampling approaches, analytical methods, reporting methods
• Specific case studies including ports, ships, airports, aircrafts, immigration detention centers, etc.
• Wastewater-based epidemiology for comprehensive community health diagnostics
• National surveillance studies and systems
• Can the public health sector incorporate such methodologies and systems in their surveillance work?
• What insights for public health can be drawn from the types of pathogens that have been detected in wastewater?
• Future directions and perspectives

We invite submissions from any relevant sector including the medical, environmental engineering and science, genomics, bioinformatics, and environmental health sections.

Submission Deadline: 31 December 2023

Submission guidelines can be found here and please submit to the series via our submission system.

Articles will undergo the journal’s standard peer-review process and are subject to all of the journal’s standard policies.

Guest Editors

Despo Fatta-Kassinos
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering 
Nireas-International Water Research Center
University of Cyprus

Bernd M. Gawlik
European Commission, Joint Research Centre,
Directorate D - Sustainable Resources

Warish Ahmed
CSIRO Environment
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation

This Collection supports and amplifies research related to SDG 3 and SDG 6.

  1. Periodic bioinformatics-based screening of wastewater for assessing the diversity of potential human viral pathogens circulating in a given community may help to identify novel or potentially emerging infectio...

    Authors: Yabing Li, Brijen Miyani, Russell A. Faust, Randy E. David and Irene Xagoraraki
    Citation: Human Genomics 2024 18:14
  2. Human viruses released into the environment can be detected and characterized in wastewater. The study of wastewater virome offers a consolidated perspective on the circulation of viruses within a population. ...

    Authors: Cristina Mejías-Molina, Anna Pico-Tomàs, Sandra Martínez-Puchol, Marta Itarte, Helena Torrell, Núria Canela, Carles M. Borrego, Lluís Corominas, Marta Rusiñol and Sílvia Bofill-Mas
    Citation: Human Genomics 2024 18:10
  3. Despite a clear appreciation of the impact of human pathogens on community health, efforts to understand pathogen dynamics within populations often follow a narrow-targeted approach and rely on the deployment ...

    Authors: Kevin J. Sokoloski, Rochelle H. Holm, Melissa Smith, Easton E. Ford, Eric C. Rouchka and Ted Smith
    Citation: Human Genomics 2023 17:114
  4. Wastewater-based epidemiological surveillance has been considered a powerful tool for early detection and monitoring of the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 and its lineages circulating in a community. This study is aim...

    Authors: Rehnuma Haque, Mohammad Enayet Hossain, Mojnu Miah, Mahbubur Rahman, Nuhu Amin, Ziaur Rahman, Md. Shariful Islam and Mohammed Ziaur Rahman
    Citation: Human Genomics 2023 17:58