Suncor Garden

Suncor repurposing equipment to aid in COVID-19 fight

Melanie Irwin – Blackburn News Sarnia, April 29, 2020

Suncor is repurposing equipment and expertise hoping to develop a fast and affordable COVID-19 test kit.

Before the pandemic, Suncor was working with Western University to determine metabolic pathways that bacteria use to break down contaminants in the company’s wastewater treatment process.

Sarnia refinery senior project manager Martin Flatley said it turns out wastewater treatment and testing for COVID-19 have a lot in common.

“When sequencing RNA or DNA, be it human, bacteria or virus, all the procedures are very similar,” said Flatley. “We’ve been using software and hardware to sequence bacteria found in our process water as well as the genes that produce proteins to assist in breaking down contaminants. We’re hopeful that we could use the same process for use in a test kit.”

Flatley said Suncor will build on its existing relationship with Mitacs researchers, Daniel Giguere and Sam Slattery and their professors Gregory Gloor, David Edgell and Bogumil Karas, and has provided additional funding, equipment and expertise to develop, test and apply for government approval of the home antibody test kit.

“We already had the equipment, expertise and access to Western University’s bio-safety lab, so we thought ‘how can use what we developed together to help fight COVID-19. It’s a great feeling knowing that we’re able to repurpose our work to support our communities in these unprecedented times.”

Flatley said the additional funding allows the team to speed up the production process and testing of the kits could happen within a few months.

“The sequencing and testing will be done at the University of Western Ontario and we’re looking at putting a scale-up and then a pilot plant at Lambton College.”

Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving business challenges with research solutions from academic institutions.

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