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eDNA Offers Ability to Inform about Presence or Absence of Species

By April 13, 2017No Comments

The power of environmental DNA (eDNA) is just being tapped. Field surveys to determine if species are present or absent can be labour intensive, expensive and subject to uncertainties especially where species distribution is poorly understood or unknown. eDNA has the potential to become a tool for supporting decisions regarding environmental management, monitoring and impacts.

To validate eDNA as an impactful technology Genome BC has invested in a partnership between the University of Victoria, Seastar Biotech Inc. (Seastar), Stantec Consulting Ltd. (Stantec), BC Hydro and the BC Ministry of Environment (BCMOE) to do a case study focused on White Sturgeon, an endangered species in Canada. The project will advance understanding of the power and limitations of eDNA analysis, as well as White Sturgeon distribution in areas of special interest to BC Hydro and the BCMOE.

The eDNA approach for White Sturgeon allows assessment of species presence by examination of DNA in water samples. This approach can offer substantial cost savings over traditional surveys, while also opening new possibilities for monitoring aquatic life.

“eDNA is going to change the way that environmental monitoring is done and our hope is that this pilot project leads the way,” says Dr. John Nelson, Founder of Seastar. Jeff Green, Business Leader for Quality and Innovation, Stantec advocates for use of creative and innovative methods: “Stantec is already employing and will expand its use of eDNA as a biomonitoring tool going forward. We are excited to work with our partners on the White Sturgeon project to demonstrate the benefits of eDNA alongside conventional methods.”

White Sturgeon is a good test species for several reasons – marine migrations and the seasonal use of coastal rivers by this fish are unknown, its presence especially in peripheral areas is poorly understood, and some populations are threatened with local extinction.

“This work could offer a completely new approach to species monitoring and this will have significant financial savings for government and industry,” says Dr. Catalina Lopez-Correa, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Sectors at Genome British Columbia. “When validated, eDNA offers a cost-effective way to do wildlife water surveys in a variety of aquatic systems and with species that have traditionally been hard to find.”

The research project, Development and Validation of Environmental DNA (eDNA) methods; Case Study White Sturgeon is valued at over $160,000 and was funded by Genome BC, BC Hydro, the BCMOE, Seastar and Stantec. For more information on Genome BC’s funding programs, visit