FRIDAY, January 7, 2022 (HealthDay News) – Anyone who sniffs the air in a zoo can breathe in the animals’ DNA – not just the smell of food or waste, a new study shows.
Two research teams took air samples from local zoos and collected enough DNA to identify the animals nearby. They say their study could potentially become a valuable, non-invasive tool for tracking biodiversity.
“By capturing airborne environmental DNA from vertebrates, we can even recognize animals that we cannot see,” says researcher Kristine Bohmann, head of the team at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.
While land animals can be monitored with wildlife cameras or checked for footprints or droppings, a disadvantage of these methods is that they require intense fieldwork and the physical presence of the animal.
This “environmental DNA,” or eDNA, is a well-established technique most commonly used to monitor aquatic organisms by sequencing eDNA from water samples.
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“Compared to what humans find in rivers and lakes, monitoring airborne DNA is really very difficult because the DNA appears to be super-diluted in the air,” said Elizabeth Clare, lead researcher on the Queen Mary University of Team London. “But our zoo studies still have to fail due to various samplers, genes, locations and experimental approaches. Everything worked and surprisingly well, ”said Clare, who is now at York University in Toronto.
The two groups published their “proof of concept” research on Jan. 6 in the journal Current Biology.
Each team conducted their individual studies at a local zoo, collecting samples in both walled areas such as the tropical house and indoor stables, and the outdoor enclosures.
To collect eDNA from the air, the Copenhagen team used a fan, like the one used to cool a computer, and attached a filter to it. The fan draws in air from the zoo and its surroundings. This could include genetic material from breath, saliva, fur, or feces, although the exact source has not been determined.
After air filtration, they extracted the DNA from the filter and used PCR amplification to make many copies of the animal DNA, the researchers said. They processed the millions of DNA sequences and compared them to a DNA reference database to identify the species.
The samples contain forensically tiny amounts of DNA, Clare said in a press release.
Clare’s team discovered DNA from 25 species of mammals and birds from the zoo and nearby wildlife. Bohmann’s team discovered 49 non-human vertebrate species, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
It is a coincidence that researchers in two locations came up with the same idea at the same time, but after seeing each other’s articles on a preprint server, the two groups decided to submit their manuscripts to the journal together.
“We decided to take a little risk and say that we are not ready to enter this competition,” said Clare. “In fact, it’s such a crazy idea that we’re better off having independent verification that this works. Both teams are very excited to see how this technology will develop. “
The U.S. Department of Agriculture got more into wildlife research.
SOURCE: Cell Press, press release, Jan 6, 2021
This article originally ran on Consumer.healthday.com.
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