eDNA in Action
Despite being a relatively new scientific approach, environmental DNA is already proving its worth in many parts of the world. Here are some things eDNA is being used for right now:.
LEARNING ABOUT THE PAST
Just like most things DNA lasts longer when it’s frozen. That means scientists have been able to take cores of glaciers and permafrost and extract DNA from the soil and other material frozen inside. These tests have yielded DNA for plants, insects and even huge Ice Age mammals such as woolly mammoths. This has given scientists a great picture about the plants and animals wandering parts of the earth hundreds of thousands of years ago.
MONITORING SPECIES THAT ARE HARD TO SPOT
Usually if scientists want to know what sorts of animals live in a particular place, they have to spot them somehow. Sometimes that just means looking out for a particular species and counting them but other times it requires a more invasive approach—like trawling a net through the water. Environmental DNA means that scientists can discover what’s in an area even if the creatures are small, not present in large numbers, or shy.
Scientists are using eDNA to track rare dolphins or testing the ice in the footprints of polar bears to see how far they roam.
GIVING EARLY WARNING OF INVADERS
Sometimes an outsider will move into an environment and drive out the local plants and animals. The best way to stop this from happening is to detect these invaders before they make themselves comfortable and multiply. But when there’s only a few they are hard to find. Not by using eDNA! Environmental DNA left behind alerts scientists to invasive species so that measures can be put into place to stop them becoming dangerous pests.
eDNA could also spot bacteria and other diseases before they become established and kill off native plants and animals. And all of this can happen without disturbing the natives!
USES FOR BIODIVERSITY