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Environmental DNA (eDNA) Monitoring and Sample Preparation: A Scientific Overview

Harnessing the Power of eDNA: Innovative Techniques for Environmental Monitoring and Conservation

by | Jun 18, 2024

Introduction to Environmental DNA (eDNA) Monitoring

Environmental DNA (eDNA) based monitoring, also known as eDNA metabarcoding, is emerging as a powerful tool in environmental science. This technique involves detecting and analyzing genetic material from organisms present in their habitats. eDNA is derived from the traces of genetic material that organisms leave behind, such as shed skin, hair, scales, and feces. This genetic material can be found in various environmental samples including water, sediment, soil, and air.

Key Applications of Environmental DNA (eDNA) Monitoring

eDNA monitoring offers several advantages over traditional environmental monitoring methods, serving multiple critical purposes:

  1. Water Quality Assessment: By analyzing eDNA in water samples, scientists can evaluate the health and quality of aquatic ecosystems. This analysis helps in detecting pollution indicators, invasive species, and other environmental changes, facilitating effective management strategies.
  2. Biodiversity Assessment: eDNA provides valuable insights into the presence and abundance of species within an ecosystem. This information aids in monitoring biodiversity changes over time and supports conservation efforts.
  3. Species Detection and Identification: eDNA allows for the detection of specific species, including endangered, rare, or elusive ones. This capability is particularly useful for monitoring endangered species and detecting invasive species.
  4. Habitat Monitoring: eDNA monitoring helps assess habitat quality by revealing species composition and ecological interactions within an ecosystem. It identifies potential threats to habitats, enabling proactive conservation measures.
  5. Disease and Environmental Contamination Tracking: eDNA can be used to detect pathogens and contaminants in the environment, aiding in the monitoring of disease spread and environmental pollution.

Cytiva plays a pivotal role in advancing environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring by providing cutting-edge technologies and solutions for sample preparation and analysis. Their expertise in high-sensitivity techniques, such as PCR and next-generation sequencing (NGS), ensures the reliable detection and analysis of eDNA, even in low quantities. Cytiva’s comprehensive range of filtration equipment and standardized protocols streamline the eDNA monitoring process, enabling accurate and non-invasive assessment of water quality, biodiversity, and habitat health. With Cytiva’s support, environmental scientists can effectively track species presence, detect contaminants, and implement proactive conservation strategies.

Cover of Cytiva whitepaper on Environmental DNA Sampling

Challenges and Advances in eDNA Analysis

The concentration and complexity of nucleic acids in eDNA samples present significant challenges. Recent technological advances, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and next-generation sequencing (NGS), combined with proper sample preparation, have enhanced the detection and analysis of eDNA, even in low quantities.

One of the major benefits of eDNA testing is its non-invasive nature. Unlike traditional methods that involve capturing or disturbing organisms, eDNA testing requires only a sample of water, soil, or air, minimizing ecosystem disruption.

Standardized Environmental DNA (eDNA) Monitoring Procedures

The British Standards Institution (BSI) has published a standard method for eDNA analysis (BS EN 17805:2023), which involves several common steps: capture, preserve, extract, amplify, and report. This standardized protocol ensures reliable and reproducible results.

Filtration Techniques for eDNA Sample Preparation

Filtration is a critical step in eDNA sample preparation, with several factors influencing its success, including filter material, pore size, and environmental conditions such as pH and particulate matter. The choice of filter media and pore size impacts both the sample flow rate and eDNA retention. Filters commonly used in eDNA studies include glass fiber (GF), mixed cellulose ester (MCE), cellulose nitrate (CN), polycarbonate (PC), and polyethersulfone (PES).

On-site vs. Laboratory Filtration

On-site filtration is recommended for rapid preservation of eDNA, as exposure to high temperatures and UV light can degrade DNA. Various filtration equipment, such as syringe filters, cartridge filters, and filter membrane discs, are used for on-site filtration. If on-site filtration is not feasible, samples should be refrigerated promptly to minimize degradation.

Precipitation as an Alternative to Filtration

Precipitation using ethanol is an alternative to filtration, suitable for small sample volumes. However, filtration, particularly using membrane discs, often yields higher DNA quantities, making it more suitable for large sample volumes and numbers.

Conclusion

eDNA monitoring is a non-invasive, effective method for detecting and analyzing genetic material from environmental samples. Its applications in water quality monitoring, biodiversity assessment, species detection, and disease tracking are invaluable for environmental conservation and management. Standardized protocols and advancements in filtration techniques have significantly improved the reliability and efficiency of eDNA monitoring, making it a crucial tool in environmental science.

For further information and detailed protocols, refer to the British Standards Institution (BS EN 17805:2023) and other key publications in this field.

Author

  • Trevor Henderson BSc (HK), MSc, PhD (c), is the Creative Services Director for the Laboratory Products Group at LabX Media Group. He has more than three decades of experience in the fields of scientific and technical writing, editing, and creative content creation. With academic training in the areas of human biology, physical anthropology, and community health, he has a broad skill set of both laboratory and analytical skills. Since 2013, he has been working with LabX Media Group developing content solutions that engage and inform scientists and laboratorians.

    View all posts Director, Creative Services - LabX Media Group

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