DNA Test: Here's why analysing DNA in soil might be an effective way of tracing animal species

A recent study at Stanford University showed that DNA testing from soil can be an effective way of tracing animal species. It is cheaper than the traditional camera traps method as well.
DNA Test: Here's why analysing DNA in soil might be an effective way of tracing animal speciesDNA Test: Here's why analysing DNA in soil might be an effective way of tracing animal species
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A new study from Stanford University revealed that sampling soils with animal's DNA can be helpful to provide information for conservation efforts that too with less cost and time. It is an easier method than the traditional one involving camera traps. The study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B says that this process will provide us with the option of observing the genetic differences between the animals who look otherwise similar. The traditional tracking process was an arduous one. And this new technique may also reveal the diversity among the previously known species. But this technique still needs more refinement to be efficient enough for the wildlife study. Still the researchers are positive about this technique, which may bring revolution in the study of species. 

 

Why eDNA test?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a list of endangered or extinct species. And according to them, the animal population in every region on the earth is getting threatened day by day. And this study of environmental DNA or eDNA is a great ray of hope to monitor biodiversity and conservation efforts. This eDNA process is done by discarded animal materials like hair, feces, skin and saliva. After the extraction of the DNA, scientists sequence and compare it to online DNA sequence databases to identify the species. The research is a comparatively fast, low-maintenance process than the traditional one. It costs around 4500 USD for the researchers for the study's supplies other than lab equipment, whereas camera traps cost more than twice as much. Despite these advantages, there are still some questions regarding this study for the research in ocean and freshwater environments. And also, earlier studies on land have been done in enclosed areas like zoos and limited areas with a small number of species. 

 

Why is it effective?

One of the employees of Stanford and his colleagues did the eDNA test in soil. They identified every animal which camera traps did 4 years ago. They could also find genetic evidence of several small mammals like bats and voles, which have rarely been seen by the cameras. These species could escape from the notice of the camera as they were too small. According to the study, there was 80 percent chance of finding an animal's DNA in a certain area within 30 days of that animal's presence over there. Another positive facet of this technique is that the possibility of distinguishing the species who look similar. For example, the DNA test found Norway rats in soil samples, but camera traps couldn't even tell the difference between Norway and black rats. 

 

Contradictions about eDNA test

Despite these positive results, there have been some questions regarding the eDNA analysis. Scientists don't know which frequency of an animal's arrival on an area should be detected on the eDNA sample test. If the size of the animal matters for this test, then some animals would rarely be spotted by the eDNA test. Because, the precise volume and number of samples required for the test are still not known to get maximum accuracy to get the traces of species. 

 

Some of these tests even over-represented some species like mountain lions and bobcats. That has possibly happened because of their frequent markings of their territory with urine and feces. Also, incomplete DNA databases and limitations made it difficult to detect all species present in the area.  

 

The research was funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Stanford University Mellon Grant and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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