CoVaRR-Net Researchers

Ioannis (Jiannis) Ragoussis, McGill University Pillar 5 & Project Lead

Robert Delatolla, University of Ottawa, Pillar 5 Deputy
Caroline Quach-Thanh, Université de Montréal, Pillar 5 Deputy
Terry Snutch, University of British Columbia BC, Pillar 5 Deputy
Jeff Wrana, Sinai Health Systems Mt Sinai, Pillar 5 Deputy
Jesse Shapiro, McGill University, Pillar 6 Lead


Dominique Frigon, McGill University
Sarah Dorner, Polytechnique Montréal
Michael Parkins, University of Calgary
Laurence Pelletier, Sinai Health Systems
Tony Mazzuli, Sinai Health Systems
Lawrence Goodridge, University of Guelph
Brad Wouters, University Health Network
Illumina Inc.

Lay Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of catching COVID-19 outbreaks early to prevent mass spread. Taking blood samples from people, analyzing them and then performing genome sequencing to detect variants, while highly useful, can lead to an underestimation of the proportion of the population infected and comes too late to identify variants before they spread.

Recently, advances in bioengineering and genomics allow wastewater from treatment plants or sewers to be used to detect viruses shed through the feces of infected people. This type of surveillance acts as an early-warning system and data produced by CoVaRR-Net groups have shown promise in detecting emerging virus variants. CoVaRR-Net is using cutting-edge technologies to enable intensive wastewater screening in combination with systematically screening all positive COVID-19 samples for variant signatures in a geographically matched region (for example, the Greater Toronto Area (GTA)). This provides an unparalleled opportunity to identify whether a specific variant is emerging in a specific area of the city.

This pilot project, led by CoVaRR-Net’s Pillar 4: Viral Genomics and Sequencing, in collaboration with Pillar 5: Computational Analysis, Modelling and Evolutionary Outcomes (CAMEO), and in partnership with Illumina Inc., involves academic and public health researchers in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. It aims to:

  • Complement and enhance provincial and federal early-warning efforts.
  • Use the data collected in these wastewater samples to better understand the spread of the virus and its variants, and whether they evade vaccine protection.

Total Budget

CoVaRR-Net: $320,670 cash contribution
Illumina Inc.: $121,465 in-kind contribution

Illumina, Inc. is providing heavily discounted sequencing reagents as the official partner in this CoVaRR-Net – led research project.

“Illumina is dedicated to contributing to a coordinated approach to help better manage infectious disease and pathogen surveillance,” said Michael Gallad, Senior Director, Canada and Latin America, Illumina. “Leveraging our whole genome pathogen sequencing technology to help develop this type of early-warning system is key in arming public health experts with a true reflection of community infection rates, viral changes and impact to vaccine efficacy. We’re proud to take part in the effort to support provincial and federal pathogen surveillance strategies.”