Vacuuming Air Can Detect New Species, Study Shows


| LAST UPDATE 01/26/2022

By Sharon Renee
vacuum dna animal species
Twitter via @Dr_bat_girl

Pulling something out of thin air is typically discouraged when it comes to science. That was, until now. Recently, researchers around the world have turned to the great outdoors to help them with their scientific research. More specifically, in studying endangered species. Here's how they've learned to successfully trace animal DNA with the help of air.

It all started when two groups of researchers - one led by Kristine Bohmann, a professor of evolutionary genomics at the University of Copenhagen, and the other by Elizabeth Clare, of York University in Toronto - set off to help identify and protect endangered species. "If you're working with a critically endangered or very rare population that's very sensitive, you may never see them in the environment, even if you know they're there," Clare explained of the difficulties it calls for. "Or alternatively, you may not be able to get near them because they're so sensitive or so protected." So, what'd she do?

vacuum dna endangered animals
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Thanks to eDNA detection, both she and Bohmann's team were able to detect animal DNA from the air outside. Here's how it worked. First, Clare headed back to her Toronto lab, where a group of naked mole rats resided. She set up a vacuum pump designed to pull air from the room, using filtered paper. Once that was completed, the researcher extracted any DNA present on that piece of paper, making copies of it via PCR. "Every sample we took had DNA in it," she explained. "We had naked mole rat DNA. We had human DNA. We had dog DNA." But it was that last reveal that left her team baffled: Where was the dog DNA coming from? 

As it turned out, one of her colleagues was a dog owner, which led Clare's research to a remarkable breakthrough: with the help of a vacuum cleaner, they were able to uncover the DNA of nearby animals by simply vacuuming the air outside. And as did Bohmann (above). "In just 40 samples, we detected 49 species spanning mammal, bird, amphibian, reptile, and fish. In the Rainforest House, we even detected the guppies in the pond," her study added. Stay tuned while this fascinating story develops.

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