New genetic study reveals hidden DNA that could reveal mysteries about animal life

Animal lives are revealed via hidden DNA. New research on genetic material or eDNA, excreted plants and animals has amazing biological insights.

(Photo: Warren Umoh/Unsplash)

Salamander observation

A Rio Grande Mermaid, a two-legged, one-foot-long slippery salamander protected by the state of Texas, had not been seen in the area of ​​Eagle Pass, a hamlet on the US border. States and Mexico, for over 140 years. But in 2019, the Mississippi State University Ph.D. Candidate and biologist Krista Ruppert admitted that she did not need a mermaid to demonstrate that they were still present.

All she needed was murky water to filter.

DNA and eDNA research

Ruppert discovered enough environmental DNA at Eagle Pass, the genetic material left behind by creatures that move through life by crawling, swimming or flapping their wings, to prove that the elusive amphibians still exist far west of their known range.

Environmental DNA, or eDNA, has transformed marine and aquatic research over the past decade by allowing researchers to sample “an entire ecosystem” with just one liter of water.

Today, eDNA has become the key skeleton for scientists after a series of dry soil tests over the past few years. It can be customized to investigate any life, is inexpensive, noninvasive, easy to use, and often requires less time and effort than previous techniques.

eDNA Pink

To extract DNA from the surface of a clump of wildflowers they had collected from two Danish fields, researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark took a risky step in 2017.

According to assistant professor of biology Eva Egelyng Sigsgaard, “We were really skeptical whether it would even work.”

To their surprise, a wild celery flower contained DNA from 25 different species of insects, spiders and arthropods. They discovered eDNA of at least 135 species with a wide range of diversity across 56 flowers, including a variety of pollinators, moths, bees and predatory beetles.

Environmental DNA extracted from flowers can provide crucial information about the most active pollinators in a region or plant species. For example, experts believe that moths and flies contribute much less than people think and could be a key part of conservation efforts.

Also read: Can science bring back extinct species?

Microscopic pathogens

(Photo: Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANT/AFP via Getty Images)

DNA in the sand

Florida’s white sand beaches are covered in eDNA, not just by visitors. Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings, weighing around two-quarters, have been observed leaving fin prints on their journey from nest to sea by researchers at the University of Florida.

Further examination of the sand samples revealed that eDNA could help researchers track the spread of diseases and species.

The microscopic tracks also included eDNA from ChHV5, a virus that harms juvenile turtles of several species by causing malignant growths known as fibropapillomatosis. The finding challenges the idea that the disease spreads horizontally through the water column or through direct contact between young turtles.

Understand the dynamics of marine life

Scientists still don’t fully understand the population dynamics of the whale shark, a mysterious monster that loves the ocean depths and doesn’t need to surface to breathe.

Scientists often use hand spears to take biopsies from the bodies of endangered sharks to learn more about the relationships between different populations.

Dugal and his colleagues identified each shark’s haplotypes — genetic markers that reveal a population’s ancestry and its relationship to other populations — by taking eDNA samples from a few meters behind the whale sharks. They matched exactly the conventional biopsies taken from the same people.

Dugal and his colleagues identified each shark’s haplotypes — genetic markers that reveal a population’s ancestry and its relationship to other populations — by taking eDNA samples from a few meters behind the whale sharks. They matched exactly the conventional biopsies taken from the same people.

Study invertebrates

However, some small creatures naturally collect genetic material from species they come into contact with during their lifetime; thus, DNA is not always simply left behind.

IDNA, or invertebrate acquired DNA, is a thriving area of ​​eDNA where “natural samplers” provide scientists with a useful shortcut.

Early research on sea sponges revealed that they unintentionally establish eDNA deposits as they filter. In contrast, leeches retain a genetic memory of their last blood meals that can last up to four months. Additionally, scientists have discovered species-level DNA in the stomachs of dung beetles that consumed the waste of various animals, including samples from sambar deer and bearded pigs.

DNA remnants in dry plants

German researchers from the University of Trier and the Max Plank Institute conducted their eDNA research uncomfortably close to home. In teas and spices bought in German grocery stores, scientists have discovered the eDNA of 1,279 species of insects, spiders and other arthropods.

According to the scientists, the discovery that eDNA is well preserved on dry plant matter stored at room temperature opens the door to a potentially vast new body of knowledge. Historical botanical specimens that have been amassed around the world for decades may include yet unexplored knowledge of the species that surrounded them in life.

Related Article: Natural Recipe: How the Earth Managed to Create Thousands of Vital Minerals for Survival

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