eDNA Is The Wave Of The Future

Aug 15, 2011


BOISE, Id – Scientists can use DNA from hair, saliva, even scat to track a bear or a mountain lion.  But it’s a lot harder to track and study say a frog, until now.

Salamanders are shy so it’s tough for scientists to find them in a lake or stream.  So researchers at the University of Idaho teamed up with the U-S Geological Survey to find a new way to track salamanders and other animals under water.

Lisette Waits “The key thing that’s happening is we’re extracting DNA from cells that the organism has left behind.”

Lisette Waits is a professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife at the U of I.   She theorized that creatures like the Idaho Giant Salamander or Rocky Mountain Tailed Frogs might slough off cells into a stream or river.  She took water samples from streams in Southwest Idaho.  Then she tested for what’s known as Environmental DNA.

Lisette Waits “The exciting thing about this is you never have to see them, you don’t need any specialized training, you just go out and take a water sample. Send it through a filter, send the samples off to a lab and then you can detect any range of species that you’re interested in.”

Environmental DNA can be used to find and track rare critters. It can also be used to follow invasive species, like the New Zealand Mud Snail.

Lisette Waits “With a lot less effort you can detect species more quickly, you can detect them earlier, and basically with less time and money, so just from a management perspective of trying to early detection of invasive species it’s really exciting.”

Waits says Environmental-DNA could change the way scientists study aquatic species.  Next she’s working on a test to identify invasive snails in water ecosystems.  She and her colleagues published their work in the online magazine PLos One.

Copyright 2011 BSPR