Novelty scientists have successfully extracted animal DNA from the air, or can monitor ‘hidden’ endangered species

  Free-floating DNA in the air can be used to track wildlife, including endangered or invasive species, without having to directly observe them, research has shown.
  Interestingly, the research was challenged simultaneously by two independent teams from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Queen Mary University of London in the United Kingdom.
  ”We decided to take a gamble and we didn’t want to compete on this project. Both teams were very eager to see the development of this technology,” said the research team from the UK. Therefore, they decided to jointly contribute.
  On January 6, 2022, the relevant research was published in the journal Current Biology in the form of a paper with the title of “Measuring Biodiversity from DNA in the Air”. The corresponding author is Elizabeth M., a molecular ecologist at Queen Mary University of London, UK. Claire.

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Species identified at different zoo locations using DNA collected from air sampling

  This research involves a very important scientific concept, namely environmental DNA.
  It is understood that environmental DNA is “the mixture of genomic DNA of different organisms in the sample environment”, and it covers a very wide range. Whether it is soil, air, liquid, or even excrement, environmental DNA that can be used as a sample can be found.
  In other words, as long as an animal lives in a certain place, or just stays, it must leave various traces, and these traces usually carry the DNA shed by the animal.
  For the research and application of environmental DNA, the most talked about is that in 2018, American scientists determined the existence of a spotted soft-shelled turtle by testing environmental DNA, while there were only three known spotted soft-shelled turtles in the world before.
  At present, environmental DNA has become an important way for scientists to obtain biological information. To some extent, it even changes the way traditional animal populations are monitored, managed and protected, as researchers can learn about entire ecosystems simply by taking soil or water samples.
  However, scientists have always wondered whether air can provide the same level of information as soil and water?
  Previously, in response to this question, a team in the United Kingdom detected the DNA of naked mole rats by sampling air from rodent burrows in a laboratory setting. In addition, they detected human DNA, which may have come from researchers working in the lab.

  The research means it may be possible to extract DNA from the air to track wild animals. But there are objections that such detection methods will be useless in the complex environment of the open air, because there are too many uncertainties in the air.
  ”Monitoring DNA in the air is really difficult compared to what people find in rivers and lakes, because the DNA in the air seems to be super-diluted,” Claire said.
  To test the technology further, two independent research groups used the same setting with a clear theme: zoos in England and Denmark.
  The researchers used a fan with a filter to draw in air from inside and around the zoo and left it running for a period of time.
  ”After air filtration, we extracted DNA from the filter and used polymerase chain reaction amplification to replicate large amounts of animal DNA. After DNA sequencing, we processed millions of sequences and eventually Comparison with a DNA reference database to determine animal species,” said Christina Ilas Lingard, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen.
  It is worth mentioning that the PCR amplification technique is the same technique used in many COVID-19 tests.

  Ultimately, the researchers identified 25 species in the UK and 49 in Denmark. Among them, eight of the identified species in the UK study did not come from zoos, but from surrounding areas; similarly, six non-zoo animals were found in the Danish study.
  ”What we’ve shown here is that we can detect a wide variety of animal life under effective natural conditions,” Claire said in an email. “We’ve found many zoo species, but also the area. Several native species of the species, including squirrels and hedgehogs. We also found some food that was offered to zoo animals.”
  So how does this study differ from earlier experiments with naked mole rats?
  The biggest difference, Claire points out, is that the team left the carefully controlled situation in the lab and went into the English countryside to try and touch all the uncontrollable elements as part of a complete ecological investigation. For example, the test was conducted in winter, so the team was exposed to temperature fluctuations in different climates such as rain, snow, and wind.
  Fortunately, the zoo study did not fail with different samples, genes, locations and experimental methods, and all test results proved to be very valid.
  It also means that the study not only pushes the boundaries of what environmental DNA can do, but also demonstrates a novel non-invasive tool to complement existing methods of monitoring terrestrial animals, which is important for conservation efforts .
  ”Capturing airborne environmental DNA from vertebrates may even allow us to detect endangered animals that we cannot see,” said research team leader Kristin Berman of the University of Copenhagen.
  Often, the closer a species is to extinction, the harder it is to monitor it, and environmental DNA in the air will make conservation easier. For example, tracking down the last vaquita, or resolving disputes over the fate of the ivory-billed woodpecker.
  In Claire’s view, perhaps the latest innovations in environmental DNA will happen sooner than people think, just as water-based DNA is quickly becoming a widely used method of conservation.
  In addition, the method can be used to assess the ecological environment, as well as to some special applications, such as the analysis of the air at crime scenes to capture the DNA left by suspects.

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