Nav: Home

DNA traces on wild flowers reveal insect visitors

February 08, 2019

Researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark, have discovered that insects leave tiny DNA traces on the flowers they visit. This newly developed eDNA method holds a vast potential for documenting unknown insect-plant interactions, keeping track of endangered pollinators, such as wild bees and butterflies, as well as in the management of unwanted pest species.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) can provide an overview of the DNA sequences in complex samples such as water and soil, and thereby a snapshot of the species inhabiting the particular ecosystem. In previous analyses of water samples from lakes and oceans, researchers have fx found DNA traces from insects, amphibians, fish and whales.

Flowers as DNA collectors

Flower-rich grassland habitats like meadows are typically visited by hundreds of species of insects such as bees, butterflies, flies and beetles, which collect food from the flowers. However, it can obviously be quite difficult to keep track of which insect species visit which flower.

But now, Associate professor Philip Francis Thomsen and Postdoc Eva Egelyng Sigsgaard from the Department of Bioscience, Aarhus University, have undertaken eDNA analyses of 50 flowers from seven different plant species.

"I have worked with DNA from water and soil samples for several years and have often thought that DNA is probably much more common in the environment than would initially imagine. With this study we wanted to test if eDNA from flowers can reveal which insects the flowers have interacted with", says Philip Francis Thomsen, who heads a research group focusing on eDNA.

The researchers were quite surprised by the analyses, which revealed that the flowers have been visited by at least 135 different species of butterflies, moths, bees, flies, beetles, aphids, plant bugs, spiders, etc. The list goes on.

The flowers therefore function as passive DNA collectors that store data about each flower-visiting insect - a discovery that is published today in the prestigious international scientific journal Ecology and Evolution.

Efficient monitoring of our insect fauna

The method opens up completely new possibilities of studying the interactions between specific plants and insects. The knowledge gained can be used within many research areas, including applied research in pest control.

The new method also holds major perspectives in the management of endangered species like wild pollinators, which is an urgent task since many groups of flower-visiting insects are threatened. Thus, the populations of several wild bees and butterflies have decreased significantly in recent decades and many species have now become locally extinct.

"The eDNA method might provide a comprehensive overview of the insects involved in the pollination of various plants. Earlier the focus has almost entirely been on bees, butterflies and hoverflies, but we have found DNA from a wide range of other insects such as moths and beetles that may in fact also be important pollinators" says Philip Francis Thomsen.
-end-
Further information: Associate Professor Philip Francis Thomsen, Department of Bioscience, Section for Genetics, Ecology and Evolution, Aarhus University. Email: pfthomsen@bios.au.dk; Tel.: + 45 2714 2046

Read the scientific article: DOI: 10.1002/ece 3.4809

Aarhus University

Related Dna Articles:

Penn State DNA ladders: Inexpensive molecular rulers for DNA research
New license-free tools will allow researchers to estimate the size of DNA fragments for a fraction of the cost of currently available methods.
It is easier for a DNA knot...
How can long DNA filaments, which have convoluted and highly knotted structure, manage to pass through the tiny pores of biological systems?
How do metals interact with DNA?
Since a couple of decades, metal-containing drugs have been successfully used to fight against certain types of cancer.
Electrons use DNA like a wire for signaling DNA replication
A Caltech-led study has shown that the electrical wire-like behavior of DNA is involved in the molecule's replication.
Switched-on DNA
DNA, the stuff of life, may very well also pack quite the jolt for engineers trying to advance the development of tiny, low-cost electronic devices.
Researchers are first to see DNA 'blink'
Northwestern University biomedical engineers have developed imaging technology that is the first to see DNA 'blink,' or fluoresce.
Finding our way around DNA
A Salk team developed a tool that maps functional areas of the genome to better understand disease.
A 'strand' of DNA as never before
In a carefully designed polymer, researchers at the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences have imprinted a sequence of a single strand of DNA.
Doubling down on DNA
The African clawed frog X. laevis genome contains two full sets of chromosomes from two extinct ancestors.
'Poring over' DNA
Church's team at Harvard's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering and the Harvard Medical School developed a new electronic DNA sequencing platform based on biologically engineered nanopores that could help overcome present limitations.

Related Dna Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".