School of Freshwater Sciences faculty share breakthroughs in COVID-19 monitoring, emerging contaminants

Fresh water sustains us — and it can reveal otherwise invisible details about our environment, and threats we face. The School of Freshwater Sciences’ faculty leads the way in two of the most important new directions in water-related research: using wastewater to monitor community levels of COVID-19, and understanding the impact of tiny particles, called nanomaterials, in our water.

Microbiologist Sandra McLellan and aquatic toxicologist Rebecca Klaper, professors at the school, recently shared new key developments and collaborations in their current projects, which have attracted national attention, with WUWM’s UWM Today.

McLellan explained how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, enters sewage systems. With careful tracking, using a system she and colleagues in a national network have designed, it’s now possible to determine how much of the virus is present in a specific community. Together with peers from other institutions, McLellan recently received a substantial grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to expand their work.

Klaper has long been at the forefront of studying emerging contaminants. Part of her work focuses on understanding how nanomaterials can affect organisms and even entire ecosystems. These tiny synthetic particles are used in a variety of industrial and medical applications, eventually making their way into our lakes, rivers and other water systems. Klaper recently shared in a five-year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to continue her work in this area.

During the UWM Today segment, the researchers emphasized the value of collaboration in both their successes and the future of freshwater research. Listen to the full interview here.