SARS-CoV-2 Whole-Genome Sequencing Using Oxford Nanopore Technology for Variant Monitoring in Wastewaters

Front Microbiol. 2022 Jun 9;13:889811. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2022.889811. eCollection 2022.


Since the beginning of the Coronavirus Disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic, multiple Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) mutations have been reported and led to the emergence of variants of concern (VOC) with increased transmissibility, virulence or immune escape. In parallel, the observation of viral fecal shedding led to the quantification of SARS-CoV-2 genomes in wastewater, providing information about the dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 infections within a population including symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals. Here, we aimed to adapt a sequencing technique initially designed for clinical samples to apply it to the challenging and mixed wastewater matrix, and hence identify the circulation of VOC at the community level. Composite raw sewage sampled over 24 h in two wastewater-treatment plants (WWTPs) from a city in western France were collected weekly and SARS-CoV-2 quantified by RT-PCR. Samples collected between October 2020 and May 2021 were submitted to whole-genome sequencing (WGS) using the primers and protocol published by the ARTIC Network and a MinION Mk1C sequencer (Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Oxford, United Kingdom). The protocol was adapted to allow near-full genome coverage from sewage samples, starting from ∼5% to reach ∼90% at depth 30. This enabled us to detect multiple single-nucleotide variant (SNV) and assess the circulation of the SARS-CoV-2 VOC Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. Retrospective analysis of sewage samples shed light on the emergence of the Alpha VOC with detection of first co-occurring signature mutations in mid-November 2020 to reach predominance of this variant in early February 2021. In parallel, a mutation-specific qRT-PCR assay confirmed the spread of the Alpha VOC but detected it later than WGS. Altogether, these data show that SARS-CoV-2 sequencing in sewage can be used for early detection of an emerging VOC in a population and confirm its ability to track shifts in variant predominance.

Keywords: ARTIC; Oxford Nanopore Technology; SARS-CoV-2; next-generation sequencing; sewage; variant of concern; wastewater-based epidemiology.