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Taking environmental monitoring to DNA levels


Bullfrog.  Internet image.

Bullfrog. Internet image.

Environmental monitoring of the future might simply mean taking a single scoop of water from a pond to test for the presence of a particular species.

Researchers at the University of Victoria, B.C. led by molecular biologist Caren Helbing have published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE that describes a new testing technique called environmental DNA, or eDNA for short. The team uses very sensitive methods which enable them to measure the DNA that every organism leaves behind.

They field tested their eDNA method in Florence Lake in Langford to see whether the invasive bullfrog and the threatened tailed frog were present. They found that despite an intense eradication program carried out between 2007-2011 at the lake, the invading bullfrogs are still lurking among the reeds.

Helbing says: “The use of eDNA has been around for a few years, but it’s been a wild west out there in its application. What we’ve done is introduce innovations and standards for the detection of eDNA. It allows us to say with confidence whether an invasive species has entered an area, or determine the range of an endangered or threatened species.”

Traditionally the presence of invasive species is logged simply by seeing them directly.

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