Member Highlight: $20 Million Grant For DNA-Based Ocean Monitoring

2019-08-27T10:04:44+00:00 August 26, 2019|
(Credit: Marta D/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0))

(Credit: Marta D/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0))

(From Bigelow Laboratory/ By ) — A $20 million grant announced today from the National Science Foundation will fund a five-year initiative by Maine science institutes to revolutionize the understanding and management of coastal ocean ecosystems.

This is the first large-scale effort to develop a cutting-edge, DNA-based toolset for states to monitor aquatic life in their coastal waters. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and the University of Maine will lead the project in conjunction with collaborators in education, government agencies, citizens’ groups and local industry.

“These advanced methods are already revolutionizing environmental science, and this project aims to do the same for Maine’s efforts to support sustainable fisheries, protect vulnerable species, monitor the impacts of climate change, and manage harmful algal blooms,” said David Emerson, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory and co-principal investigator on the project.

The project leverages developments in the understanding of environmental DNA (eDNA) – genetic traces left behind by all plants, animals, and microbes. Even a small water sample contains a massive amount of this information, which provides the potential to construct a snapshot of the local ecosystem at any given time.

“The beauty of eDNA is that it is a forensic tool whereby the DNA extracted from as little as a liter of seawater can tell us about all the living organisms in the ecosystem – from the smallest bacteria to largest marine mammals,” Emerson said.

Monitoring any marine species, let alone an entire ecosystem, is a traditionally a difficult and expensive undertaking. Developing eDNA techniques aims to address those challenges. The methods start with…

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