Collecting environmental DNA (eDNA) from the sea can be a tricky business, requiring huge quantities for water to search through to detect DNA shed by organisms living in the sea. Researchers at the Natural History Museum in London and the University of Salford believe they have found a new alternative; sponges.
Sponges are filter feeders, that suck up large quantities of water through their tissues in order to feed. The researchers thought this quality might mean that they also sucked up large quantities of eDNA, that they could test to determine what organisms were living near the sponges. To test their concepts, the team at the Museum sampled sponge samples they had in their collection. From these samples, they were able to detect DNA from 31 types of organisms that were present in the surrounding area. The organisms detected by their DNA included a number of fish species, Weddell penguins and chinstrap penguins.
Because sponges can be found in both fresh and salt water, at a variety of depths, in a number of different environments, it could mean that they provide a useful way of capturing eDNA. However, there are many questions to be answered before this eDNA sampling method becomes mainstream, including the determination of how long the DNA is present in the sponge before being degraded. This new method, if proven to be successful, could allow future researchers to collect eDNA in areas where it is difficult, or impossible to install machinery that could collect the samples.
Source: Natural History Museum
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