Environmental DNA Is Changing the Way Ecologists Do Their Job – And It’s Fantastic!
Like many good stories, this one starts with a bunch of cr*p – literally. It was when Kristine Bohmann of the University of Copenhagen collected a bag of bat droppings that an idea struck her – to inspect the droppings not microscopically, but genetically. You see, Bohmann was on a mission in 2010 in the Eswatini area, searching for evidence that the bats in the area were feeding off of crop pests and that crop farmers were having an effect on the habitat of these bats. To prove this, she was to inspect the droppings to identify the insects the bats were consuming. While this is generally done under a microscope, Bohmann decided to use genetic sequencing instead – fancy, eh?
Ecologists are becoming more and more reliant on DNA sequencing in order to conduct their research. This DNA is the DNA that is shed by organisms into the surrounding environment, and it is termed environmental DNA or eDNA. This incredible leap in technology puts an end to having to trek into the fields for months at a time to collect and taxonomically organize and identify organisms. By tapping into sources like fish scales, blood, feces, saliva, urine, and skin cells, scientists can measure rather accurately the biodiversity of an area and identify various invasive, endangered, and rare species.
Early procedures for eDNA surveys made use of PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, to amplify the DNA collected. However, newer and more modern systems, as used by Bohmann, can target an entire range of species’ DNA in one single sample, instead of just an individual species. Of course, these modern techniques have opened doors for eDNA surveyors who can become more ambitious and more innovative with the scope of their work.
Modern Techniques Still Need Improving
The technology has room for improvement, as it does require development in estimating population abundance. Further, the techniques do require sophisticated and expensive laboratory equipment of specialized nature, featuring bioinformatics skills. Needless to add, ecologists still have to get their hands and knees dirty, going out and collecting samples outdoors!
As technology develops, this will come to change, and the eDNA survey conducting will grow cheaper over time. As for databases, there is still a great need for taxonomic specialists in building the reference databases on which the eDNA technology depends. In the new techniques, abundance in the environment is not accurate, and population estimates cannot be put together, as can be done with the mark and recapture system of surveying. Another big challenge that researchers face is contamination mainly when dealing with trace eDNA. To avoid that it a meticulous use of boots, wetsuits, gloves, and other equipment is necessary.
The Other Benefits
The work it takes to gather information for surveys can often be time-consuming and even risky. For instance, the study conducted by ecologist Stephen Spear, who surveyed US sites for a salamander, having to peer under rocks and walk through creeks. He even snorkeled through the waters in search of the species. He has had rocks fall onto his arm and has colleagues who have suffered broken bones from the same accident. With the new eDNA technology, all Sper needs to do is collect water from points along the river or stream to test for eDNA. This eliminated many risks and drastically reduces time consumption.
Samples from where you can detect eDNA traces are endless. It seems the study of geographical regions can be done using sources of flowers, leeches, and even the air! In one study, eDNA of over 100 species of insects and arthropods were found from wildflowers. Without eDNA technology, scientists would have to sit beside the flower and watch every insect that visited, identifying, and recording them.
Some creative sources to use for sampling are blood-sucking mosquitoes, marine sponges I seawater, and even flies. These creatures would be warehouses of eDNA material!
And so it happens that technology is changing the face of ecology! This is certainly an exciting time to be alive. With so many advancements and leaps in the world of technology are helping us learn incredible amounts of information at a time. We have come a long way to go in scientific advancements, indeed. But we surely have miles to go!
More in Saving & Refinance
Here’s How You Can Build an Awesome Capsule Wardrobe on a Shoestring
Capsule wardrobes are gaining significance in today’s consumerist culture. The concept of capsule wardrobes has caught the fancy of the high-profile...January 13, 2020
The Three Perks of Recycling in Saving Mother Earth
With the careless and ignorant ways of disposing of garbage and the abuse of the environment’s natural resources, we are now...January 12, 2020
Five Reasons Why You Should Hire a Business Coach to Achieve Your Business Goals
Hiring a business coach is your best option to stay on track of your goals and become a competitive businessman. As...January 10, 2020
Living in an Apartment? Here’s How You Can Maximize Space Without Compromising Style
For an apartment dweller, creating a stylish as well as a functional space can often be an uphill task. Doing up...January 9, 2020
Should You Take Financial Help from Your Family?
Especially during tough times, our families become our biggest strength. You do things for your family you wouldn’t normally do for...January 8, 2020
Five Things that Make Entrepreneurs Rich (and Eventually Famous)
Starting your own business is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. You can now control the money you earn, and you don’t have to...January 7, 2020
Save the Earth: Use Environmentally-Friendly Cleaners
Homeowners are very health conscious, especially when it comes to their children. They want to make sure that they provide a...January 6, 2020
This Is Why Your Business Needs Flextime!
The face of the business environment has undoubtedly gone under a lot of change in recent times, and that goes for...January 3, 2020
Four Smart Travel Tips to Help You Save Money
Going on an adventure is one of the most exceptional experiences that you can have in life. The sudden urge to...January 2, 2020