A new study by Rutgers University has shown that COVID-19 saliva testing kits can also be used to measure oral microscopic organisms, according to Medical Xpress.

The study findings, published in the journal NPJ Biofilms and Microbiomes, suggest an important relationship between mouth and lung microbes and the coronavirus, which could help develop new treatments.

This is the first study to test the accuracy of saliva-based, at-home COVID-19 test kits in measuring the oral microbiome, the bacteria found in humans and animals.

Lead author Abigail Armstrong said, “We inhale a small amount of our saliva every day, so it makes sense that some of the microbes that live in our mouths would end up in our lungs.”

“By studying the mouth microbiome in these banked samples of people with or without COVID-19, we can get an idea of how the microbial environment in the mouth and lung might impact the disease,” added Armstrong, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine (CABM) at Rutgers.

COVID saliva tests use preservatives to maintain the genetic (RNA) material in the virus to enable fast results. However, it was unknown if it also would preserve the bacterial genetic material, until now.

The researchers collected saliva samples from 22 participants with the at-home kits and in empty tubes. Of those, six came back the next days to give samples so the researchers could study their oral microbiome over time.

The team found that the samples collected in the COVID-19 testing kits still allowed for accurate measuring of the bacteria and gave a more stable picture of the microbiome over time compared to samples collected in kits without a preservative, according to Medical Xpress.

The study findings suggest that saliva collected for COVID-19 testing can also be used to measure oral microbes so they can understand the systemic effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The findings may also help the researchers to develop probiotic- or microbiome-centered therapies to help treat COVID-19.

Senior author Martin Blaser, CABM Director, said, “This work puts us into a position to examine the many saliva specimens we have obtained from Rutgers study subjects volunteering to participate in COVID investigations.”