JUN 08, 2020 1:27 PM PDT

Unlocking Deep Ocean Mysteries with eDNA

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

The ocean remains largely unexplored, and the ocean’s twilight zone is of key interest to researchers. Named for the lack of light, the twilight zone ranges from about 200 to 1,000 meters below the ocean’s surface. A team of scientists from Lehigh University and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have developed a novel technique to study this deep water ecosystem, notably eDNA.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines eDNA, environmental DNA, as “free-floating genetic material that organisms leave behind in the water column, an almost invisible sign of their presence.” Marine organisms can be identified by unseen signs of their existence, similar to human fingerprints left behind on surfaces or other forensic materials.

An article from WHOI regarding the research highlighted biologist Annette Govindarajan, who uses DNA barcodes to identify individual species. Similar to human forensic programs, the DNA barcodes of organisms are stored in a database, and Govindarajan uses the information to build a catalog of deep-sea species.

According to NOAA, the team’s mission occurred from September 23 to 27, 2019. They used the Manta research vessel and the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Mesobot to collect eDNA near Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico. To obtain the samples, the researchers developed an innovative pumping and filtering system on the AUV to be able to collect eDNA from the seawater. This novel system pumped more than 700 liters of seawater per dive. NOAA reports that the team completed five dives for over 15 hours in the water, and collected 238 eDNA samples from depths down to 365 meters.

In addition to identifying deep water species such as corals, fishes, and invertebrates, scientists are also interested in how ocean conditions might impact the quality of eDNA. WHOI reports that additional collaborating scientists are studying how water temperature, oxygenation, and pH might affect the stability and persistence of eDNA in deepwater habitats.

The results of this expedition are essential to help researchers create a global framework for the use of eDNA for deepwater biodiversity research.

Sources: NOAA, WHOI, WHOI Oceanus

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
You May Also Like
MAY 22, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Some Coral Turn Neon When Stressed
MAY 22, 2020
Some Coral Turn Neon When Stressed
Corals are immobile animals, and coral reefs are considered to be the most diverse ecosystems in the sea.
JUN 03, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Regional disparities in environmental NGOs
JUN 03, 2020
Regional disparities in environmental NGOs
A recent study published in PLOS ONE describes the diverse missions of global environmental non-governmental organizatio ...
JUN 13, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
New model monitors landslide triggers
JUN 13, 2020
New model monitors landslide triggers
Research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research - Earth Surface from scientists at Duke University details a n ...
JUN 28, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Low-Level Chemical Exposure Causes Heritable Changes in Fish
JUN 28, 2020
Low-Level Chemical Exposure Causes Heritable Changes in Fish
Scientists used a fish called the inland silverside, Menidia beryllina, to show that even small amounts of chemicals tha ...
JUL 07, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Common mineral found to destroy forever chemicals in contaminated water
JUL 07, 2020
Common mineral found to destroy forever chemicals in contaminated water
You have probably heard the recent concerns about PFAS, otherwise known as per/polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or fore ...
JUL 27, 2020
Plants & Animals
Why Mosquitoes Have a Preference for Human Blood
JUL 27, 2020
Why Mosquitoes Have a Preference for Human Blood
There is a huge variety of mosquitoes in the world - around 3,500 species - and only a few seek humans for their blood m ...
Loading Comments...