Two recent studies have shown that DNA is omnipresent and can give a clue of surrounding animals when extracted from an air sample. Published in the bioRxiv journal last week as a preprint, the study is being certified by peer review. The research was conducted by two groups who independently showed that the atmosphere can contain detectable amounts of DNA from myriad kinds of animals. The team of scientists included eight members from the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary University of London, Department of Biology, York University, Toronto, Canada and Hamerton Zoo Park, UK.
The study demonstrated how DNA from terrestrial animals can be collected from the air under natural conditions, which the researchers described as “a ground-breaking advance for terrestrial biomonitoring.” For their study, the researchers used air samples from a zoological park, where species are spatially confined and unique in comparison to native fauna. The team of scientists further mentioned in the abstract that they showed that DNA in air can be used to identify the captive species and their potential interactions with local groups of organisms.
The air samples collected by researchers contained DNA from 25 species of mammal and bird including 17 known and distinct terrestrial zoo species. The study also identified food items from air sampled in enclosures and detected four organisms native to the local area, including the Eurasian hedgehog, which is endangered in the UK, and the muntjac deer, a locally established invasive species.
Researchers mention that their data provides evidence that airDNA is concentrated around recently inhabited areas, for example indoor enclosures but they have also detected dispersal away from the source which suggests an ecology to airDNA movement. This discovery, the study mentions, highlights the potential for airDNA sampling at distance.
Researchers believe that with the global decline in biodiversity, scientists require rapid non-invasive biomonitoring tools applicable at a global scale. The dataset of the study detected species at risk of local extinction and several confirmed predator-prey interactions. Scientists believe that this approach will “revolutionize” terrestrial biodiversity surveys.