UCD Covid-19 Response

The UCD Community is rising to the challenge posed by the global pandemic

A standard approach to tracking Covid-19 infections through wastewater on the whole island of Ireland

Lead Researchers: Professor Wim MeijerUCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science and Professor John McGrath, Queen’s University Belfast.


People infected with the Covid-19 virus shed the virus in their faeces, and the virus can be detected in sewage entering wastewater treatment plants. Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has previously funded research to develop technology to monitor the virus in sewage treatment plants in Dublin. Now SFI and the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) will support a project to use the technology to detect the Covid-19 virus in sewage in Northern Ireland. The virus will be analysed within sewerage networks in both the Republic and in Northern Ireland. This will allow the researchers to assess and report the real infection rate for the island of Ireland and to identify hotspots where an outbreak is happening.

What is the issue?

A previous study led by University College Dublin has shown that measuring the Covid-19 virus, SARS-CoV-2, in wastewater in the Republic of Ireland can identify whether the virus is present and if the infection levels are going up or down. However, we do not know how many people in that area are infected.

What will the research project do?

The researchers at UCD will transfer the technology to Northern Ireland so that data on the amount of virus in sewage will be available there as well. This data, together with data from about known cases of Covid-19 and statistical models to assess the real infection rate on the island of Ireland and identify emerging areas or hotspots of infection.

What will the impact be?

By measuring SARS-CoV-2 concentrations in the sewage, the project will tell us what the real SARS-CoV-2 infection rate is on the island of Ireland and enable early intervention if a local outbreak is occurring.

Professor of Microbiology Wim Meijer said: “Wastewater surveillance is a robust and cost-effective tool to monitor the Covid-19 virus in communities in Ireland.”


Project Team

Lead Applicant Professor Wim Meijer

Co-Applicant Professor John McGrath, QUB


Dr. Nicola Fletcher, UCD

Prof. John O'Sullivan, UCD

Prof. Thomas Brendan Murphy, UCD

Prof. Laurence Gill, Trinity College Dublin

Dr. Connor Bamford, Queen's University Belfast

Prof. Jennifer McKinley, Queen's University Belfast

Dr. Derek Fairley, HSC - Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Mr. Paul Buggy, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council

Mr. Kevin Callanan, Dublin City Council

Mr. Padraig Doyle, Dublin City Council

Dr. Laura Sala-Comorera, UCD

Dr. Liam Reynolds, UCD

Ms. Niamh Martin, UCD

Prof. Stuart Elborn, Queen's University Belfast

Prof. Michael Tunney,Queen's University Belfast

Dr. Deirdre Gilpin, Queen's University Belfast

Dr. Stephanie Millar, Northern Ireland Environment