A lake fauna in a shot-glass

December 11, 2011

Danish research team leads the way for future biodiversity monitoring using DNA traces in the environment to keep track of threatened wildlife - a lake water sample the size of a shot-glass can contain evidence of an entire lake fauna.

Global biodiversity is plummeting while biologists are fighting to keep score and reliable monitoring of threatened animals remains a major challenge. The biologist toolset has changed little on this area for a hundred years - still relying on expensive expert surveys basically finding and counting the animals. However, this situation is now set to change according to a recent study by researchers at the Natural History Museum of Denmark published as a cover story in the acclaimed scientific journal Molecular Ecology. The results of the study show that a new method can be used to monitor rare and threatened animal species from DNA traces in their freshwater environments.

The development of the innovative DNA species monitoring was accomplished by PhD student Philip Francis Thomsen and Master's students Jos Kielgast and Lars L. Iversen at Centre for GeoGenetics headed by professor Eske Willerslev.

"We have shown that the DNA detection method works on a wide range of different rare species living in freshwater - they all leave DNA traces in their environment which can be detected in even very small water samples from their habitat. In the water samples we find DNA from animals as different as an otter and a dragonfly," says Philip Francis Thomsen.

By studying the fauna of one hundred different lakes and streams in Europe with both conventional methods - counting individuals - and the new DNA-based method the research team documents that DNA detection is effective even in populations where the animals are extremely rare. The study also shows that there is a clear correlation between the amount of DNA in the environment and the density of individuals meaning that the DNA detection method can even be used to estimate population sizes. This is crucial in the monitoring of rare animals, where one often wants to know whether the population is large or small.

"The UN has agreed to halt the decline of biodiversity, but a prerequisite to do so is that we are capable of properly documenting the status of threatened species. Our new approach is a huge step forward making it cheaper and faster to monitor the endangered species, and thus prioritise efforts to the benefit of biodiversity at a broad scale," says Jos Kielgast.

The researchers have documented that DNA traces of animals are nearly ubiquitous in the freshwater environment and, as a proof-of-concept, these findings may have wider implications reaching disciplines far beyond threatened species monitoring. With DNA sequencing technology advancing at rapidly dropping costs, environmental DNA research is set to change from being merely a scientific curiosity to become an important tool in applied biology. It is for example conceivable that fishing quota may in the future be based on DNA traces rather than fish catches.
-end-
Contact information

PhD student, Philip Francis Thomsen (tel. 45-27142046)

Master's thesis student, Jos Kielgast (tel. 45-28492128), skypename: jos_kielgast

University of Copenhagen

Related DNA Articles from Brightsurf:

A new twist on DNA origami
A team* of scientists from ASU and Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) led by Hao Yan, ASU's Milton Glick Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, and director of the ASU Biodesign Institute's Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, has just announced the creation of a new type of meta-DNA structures that will open up the fields of optoelectronics (including information storage and encryption) as well as synthetic biology.

Solving a DNA mystery
''A watched pot never boils,'' as the saying goes, but that was not the case for UC Santa Barbara researchers watching a ''pot'' of liquids formed from DNA.

Junk DNA might be really, really useful for biocomputing
When you don't understand how things work, it's not unusual to think of them as just plain old junk.

Designing DNA from scratch: Engineering the functions of micrometer-sized DNA droplets
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) have constructed ''DNA droplets'' comprising designed DNA nanostructures.

Does DNA in the water tell us how many fish are there?
Researchers have developed a new non-invasive method to count individual fish by measuring the concentration of environmental DNA in the water, which could be applied for quantitative monitoring of aquatic ecosystems.

Zigzag DNA
How the cell organizes DNA into tightly packed chromosomes. Nature publication by Delft University of Technology and EMBL Heidelberg.

Scientists now know what DNA's chaperone looks like
Researchers have discovered the structure of the FACT protein -- a mysterious protein central to the functioning of DNA.

DNA is like everything else: it's not what you have, but how you use it
A new paradigm for reading out genetic information in DNA is described by Dr.

A new spin on DNA
For decades, researchers have chased ways to study biological machines.

From face to DNA: New method aims to improve match between DNA sample and face database
Predicting what someone's face looks like based on a DNA sample remains a hard nut to crack for science.

Read More: DNA News and DNA Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.