Health Conditions

These cofounders believe sewage is the key to tracking COVID

“Everybody has a voice in the sewer.”

That was the message that Newsha Ghaeli and Mariana Matus, cofounders of Biobot Analytics, had for Fortune‘s virtual Most Powerful Women Next Gen conference on Wednesday.

As the pair noted, everyone engages in certain bodily functions every day. But excrement has an important public health purpose, too: In short, you can sniff out a burgeoning epidemic through wastewater.

“One of the things we’ve seen over the last several months is that data from wastewater is a leading indicator for detecting cases of COVID,” said Ghaeli.

Biobot analyzes sewage to detect everything from opioid use in a community to the chances of an infectious disease outbreak. That’s particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic so that a locale can take precautions when virus levels in wastewater indicate a growing outbreak.

“Every time we flush the toilet, we’re creating high quality medical samples,” said Matus, adding that Biobot was “the first team to build out this wastewater technology.”

“Post COVID-19, we’re deployed across most states across the country,” she said.

Some colleges and universities have begun using similar technology to detect COVID outbreaks in dorm clusters, including the University of Colorado at Boulder.

But coronavirus isn’t the only bug that Biobot can detect. “We can move to other infectious diseases such as influenza,” said Ghaeli. “This could be used to create an early tracker to alert communities to flu outbreaks or other pathogens like the norovirus.”

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