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Scientists Pull Animal DNA Out of Thin Air

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The air sampling could transfigure the study of global biodiversity 

The eDNA attained from resources like water samples and soil provides a range of research materials for biologists. The environmental DNA or simply eDNA, has progressed rapidly over the past two decades. However, water was the medium of study in most of the findings which limit the research to aquatic environments. Airborne DNA brings another scope to the subject and scale of biodiversity.

The journal Current Biology has published an interesting study about air DNA analysis. Two study groups report that the air samples taken from a zoo are rich in active DNA. This investigation would help in tracking species existing in and around the vicinity of a terrestrial environment.

72 air samples were collected from assorted 20 vicinities of the Hamerton Zoological Park in Huntingdonshire, UK. Among them, 64 samples confirm the presence of DNA belonging to non-human terrestrial vertebrates. The analysis of these samples in the laboratory has spotted 25 species living in and around the zoo. These include 11 targeted zoo mammals and 12 other species belonging to local wildlife, and food items.

To a surprise these are not just the zoo dwellers but, scientists have also identified DNA belonging to a species of endangered hedgehog from Europe. Moreover, another group of biologists executed a similar experiment in a Danish zoo. The results from the air sample analysis taken from both zoos are quite similar.

Dr Elizabeth Clare of York University, Canada, studied the case at the Queen Mary University of London. Whereas, parallel research is carried out in Denmark, led by Kristine Bohmann, a genomicist from the Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen.

Scientists, in fact, are very hopeful that airborne eDNA sampling will have major effects on global terrestrial biomonitoring. This non-invasive monitoring of eDNA can track faunal composition, and species of special ecological concern. Thus airborne eDNA would introduce innovative and non-invasive methodologies to monitor land-dwelling biodiversity on a global scale.