FURI | Fall 2022

Identifying the Physical Identity of an Individual through Wastewater-Based Epidemiology

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Wastewater-Based Epidemiology (WBE) is a developing field that allows scientists to collect and monitor data about waste from a wide range of sources: ranging from household wastewater to collecting community waste from a local wastewater treatment facility. This data provides important predictions and accurate information in determining concentrations of polioviruses, pathogens, bacteria, and other pathogens in a community. WBE data tied with demographic information about a community allows scientists to estimate infection rates and raise awareness to the local population about spreading diseases, infections, and drug usage. With large amounts of data comes privacy concerns about potentially identifying individuals, neighborhoods, schools, or cities. Scientists can put together genetic and chemical biomarkers of identity through data gathered in WBE which poses a potential threat to the privacy of an individual or community in the wrong hands or when WBE data is stored insecurely. Furthermore, technologies for gathering genomic information from wastewater have matured with a global-scale effort for COVID-19 surveillance. This leads to an interesting and concerning question: Is it possible to identify the physical presence of an individual from genomic information collected from wastewater? The goal of this project is to provide a theoretic baseline for the identifiability of a target individual given a mixture of genomic data gathered from wastewater and complete genomic information of the individual. This project will also provide what the maximum catchment area (defined as the size of the population in the catchment area) is for our identification method to work successfully.

Student researcher

Rishik Kolli

Computer science

Hometown: Anthem, Arizona, United States

Graduation date: Spring 2024