Congresswoman Grace Meng Visits Queens College Project—Made Possible with Nearly $2 Million in Funding Support From Her—That Tests Wastewater for Pathogens, including Coronaviruses (COVID-19), Influenza, Polio, and Monkeypox

Queens College President Frank H. Wu publicly thanked Meng; QC virologist John Dennehy, leading wastewater pathogen researcher, and his students gave Meng a tour of the lab–

October 3, 2022, Flushing, NY—Today, Queens College President Frank H. Wu welcomed Congresswoman Grace Meng at the school’s Wastewater Epidemiology Training Laboratory (WETLAB), a project that she made possible with $1,850,000 in federal funding to develop strategies to detect dangerous pathogens in wastewater, including coronaviruses such as COVID-19, influenza, and more recently, polio and monkeypox. The money is part of nearly $10 million in federal allocations for Community Project Funding that was secured by Meng for ten projects throughout Queens.“I want to thank all of you for joining us on this important occasion,” said Wu. “I am especially grateful to Congresswoman Grace Meng, one of Queens College’s most effective advocates. Thanks to her vision, we are on the forefront of virus detection in New York City. She supported funding that made it possible to replace obsolete and old laboratory equipment, allowing Professor Dennehy and his researchers to increase the sensitivity and throughput of their analyses. The funds will also make it possible to get new items that expand the kind of data they collect, further increasing their ability to conduct research.”

Queens College virologist John Dennehy, who conceived and directs the QC WETLAB project and has made national headlines for his wastewater analysis efforts, and his students were also on hand to thank Meng and discuss their work. Mumbai native Sherin Kannoly, a National Institutes of Health-funded postdoctoral researcher in Dennehy’s lab, has developed a patent-pending device for the project that traps pathogens as sewer system water flows through it so that they can be extracted for testing.

“Queens College does an outstanding job in serving students,” said Congresswoman Meng. “It also contributes greatly to our borough and city, and spearheading projects like these are a tremendous example of how it does that. The work of this WETLAB will be critical to the health and safety of New Yorkers, helping to ensure that we are prepared and equipped to tackle public health challenges when they occur. I am eager to see the work that the lab produces and look forward to it benefiting Queens and New York for many years to come. As New York’s senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am proud to have secured this crucial funding.”Dennehy said, “Wastewater-based epidemiology is a rapidly developing technology that will provide high paying jobs to our community in addition to helping keep Americans safe from future pandemics. We are grateful that Congresswoman Grace Meng has the vision and foresight to support this work, which is a tremendous boon to CUNY students and the citizens of Queens.” Daniel Weinstein, dean of the Queens College School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, acknowledged Meng’s support in remarks.

Reflecting the extraordinary diversity of the university and college communities, Dennehy is one of the only U.S.-born members of his research team. Colleague Monica Trujillo, a Queensborough Community College microbiologist, is a native of Uruguay, and technicians who have worked on the project over the last two years—several of whom have pursued postgraduate studies or medical school—have come from Bangladesh, Burma, China, India, Japan, Nepal, and Taiwan. One technician is the child of Iranian parents.

After monitoring SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater at all 14 NYC wastewater treatment plants for the past two years, the Queens College team has expanded monitoring efforts to NYC Health + Hospitals facilities, where asymptomatic patients carrying serious infections may be shedding them in wastewater. The researchers are working to extend sampling to local airports to detect new pathogens being carried into the country at the earliest possible opportunity.

About the Queens College Wastewater Epidemiology Training LaboratoryThe Wastewater Epidemiology Training Laboratory (WETLAB) at Queens College aims to develop simple, cost-effective, and robust strategies for detecting the presence of dangerous pathogens—including coronaviruses, polio, and influenza—in sewer shed wastewater, while training students of diverse backgrounds to participate in high-level research activities. Failure to control virus outbreaks led to the emergence of novel variants of concern that threaten to erase gains from vaccination and recovery-based natural immunity. For these reasons, new approaches to community-wide pathogen surveillance are crucial for addressing the current and future pandemics. The WETLAB project was conceived and is directed by Queens College Biology Professor John Dennehy.

About Queens CollegeQueens College enjoys a national reputation for its liberal arts and sciences and pre-professional programs. With its graduate and undergraduate degrees, honors programs, and research and internship opportunities, the college helps its students realize their potential in countless ways, assisted by an accessible, award-winning faculty. Located on a beautiful, 80-acre campus in Flushing, the college has been cited by Princeton Review as one of America’s Best Value Colleges for five consecutive years, as well as being ranked a U.S. News and World Report Best College and Forbes Magazine Best Value College thanks to its outstanding academics, generous financial aid packages, and relatively low costs. Visit our homepage to learn more​.

Maria Matteo

Media and College Relations