Ecology

DNA Leaves a Trace

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Science  06 Jan 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6064, pp. 14
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6064.14-a
CREDIT: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM

Detecting the presence of populations of rare and threatened animal species is a challenge for conservation planners and managers, especially in habitats like lakes and rivers, where an animal leaves little or no macroscopic trace. Thomsen et al. have developed a molecular solution to tracking and quantifying elusive creatures, in the form of DNA obtained from water samples in freshwater habitats in Europe. Their trials used six aquatic species—vertebrate and invertebrate—that occur naturally at low abundance and that are the focus of strict conservation efforts. With samples as small as 15 ml, they were able to detect and quantify populations of each species and to verify experimentally that the DNA indeed represented contemporary occurrence. The technique was then successfully extended to the detection of entire communities of species, using high-throughput sequencing techniques.

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