In 1970, Earth Day was launched as a modern environmental movement and a unified response to an environment in crisis. Earth Day has provided a platform for action, resulting in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts in the US and more globally. This year, 22 April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the number one environmental crisis theme which needs immediate attention is ‘Climate Action’. Many of our ecosystems on earth are degrading at an alarming pace and we are currently experiencing a species loss at a rate of tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past.
Imagine that you want to catalogue all of the biodiversity (all of the living organisms) from a particular location; how many trained experts would that require? How many person hours would it take to collect and identify all of the rare, well-disguised, and microscopic organisms? How many of these organisms would have to be removed from the environment and taken back to a lab for taxonomic analysis.
Although there is no substitute for human expertise, we have begun using the traces of DNA that organisms leave behind (e.g. excretions, skin and hair cells) in the environment to catalogue biodiversity. These traces of DNA, referred to as environmental DNA, can persist in the environment for minutes or can persist for centuries depending on where they end up. This field of environmental DNA (eDNA) is rapidly becoming an effective tool to complement surveys of biodiversity, both past and present.
There’s more information below on the Featured Articles selected by the Senior Editor. We also give you a taste of the Open Access and freely available papers (Applications articles are always free to access for everyone upon publication, whether you have a subscription or not) we’ve published in our November issue. Continue reading →
It’s the 22nd of September and that means it’s this year’s UN World Rivers Day! In over 60 countries around the globe events are going on today to bring attention to the many values of our waterways. And we, the Aquatic Ecology Special Interest Group of the BES, are joining in with the celebrations! We’re highlighting recent methodological advancements that will help us to manage and conserve our rivers in the future. So let’s get started…
Multiple Stressors and Molecular Tools
Today, human activities across the world are impacting rivers to varying degrees. As scientists, we frequently see the interaction of multiple different stressors such as flow regulations, pollution or climate change affecting our rivers. The combined impact of stressors like these may be worse than any of their individual impacts. To understand and manage the effect of them, we need cost-effective and reliable analytical tools that can capture site-specific and ecosystem-wide effects.
Recent methodological advances that will help us to achieve these goals often rely on the application of new or improved molecular tools. Emerging techniques include environmental DNA (eDNA) based applications to monitor endangered and invasive species as well as stable isotope ecology, which provides us with new insights into animal diets and energy flows through aquatic food webs. We’d like to take the opportunity to introduce some of the novel developments in both of these exciting fields. Continue reading →
With the extra long issue, comes more free articles. There are ELEVEN papers in our August issue that are free to access for absolutely anyone. You can find out about the four Practical Tools papers and seven Applications articles below.
It’s estimated that a person sheds between 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells per day. These cells and their associated DNA leave genetic traces of ourselves in showers, dust — pretty much everywhere we go.
Other organisms shed cells, too, leaving traces throughout their habitats. This leftover genetic material is known as environmental DNA, or eDNA. Research using eDNA began about a decade ago, but was largely limited to a small cadre of biologists who were also experts in computers and big data. However, a new tool from UCLA could be about to make the field accessible and useful to many more scientists.
A team of UCLA researchers recently launched the Anacapa Toolkit — open-source software that makes eDNA research easier, allowing researchers to detect a broad range of species quickly and producing sortable results that are simple to understand. Continue reading →
Researchers at Washington State University and Smith-Root recently invented an environmental DNA (eDNA) filter housing that automatically preserves captured eDNA by desiccation. This eliminates the need for filter handling in the field and/or liquid DNA preservatives. The new material is also biodegradable, helping to reduce long-lasting plastic waste associated with eDNA sampling.
This video explains their new innovation in the field of eDNA sampling technology:
A new self-preserving filter housing automatically preserves eDNA, while reducing the risk of contamination, and creating less plastic waste.
Researcher collecting an eDNA sample using the self-preserving filter housing.
In 2015 the inventor of the Keurig disposable coffee cartridge (K-Cups) told reporters that sometimes he regrets ever inventing the technology. The single-use design simply produces too much non-recyclable trash. Well, that very same problem is what ultimately led to the creation of a self-preserving filter for environmental DNA (eDNA); a recently reported Practical Tool in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.
eDNA scientists rely on single-use sampling equipment because eDNA surveys are highly sensitive to potential contamination. “We started out simply looking for biodegradable plastics that could be molded into a filter housing, with the objective of reducing plastic waste.” says Dr. Austen Thomas who led the team of researchers and engineers who invented the Smith-Root eDNA Sampler. “That’s when we realized that some of the biodegradable compounds function by being highly hydrophilic.” Continue reading →
The ANDe system can help researchers tell whether endangered species are present.
In recent years, there have been a lot of studies on the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for species detection and monitoring. This method takes advantage of the fact that organisms shed DNA into the environment in the form of urine, feces, or cells from tissue such as skin. As this DNA stays in the environment, we can use molecular techniques to search for traces of it. By doing this, we can determine if a species lives in a particular place.