JUL 21, 2021 7:03 AM PDT

Researchers Detect DNA in Air Samples

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Scientists have shown that it's possible to assess what organisms might be living in a particular habitat by collecting samples and looking for so-called environmental DNA (eDNA). Organisms shed their DNA into the environment around them; researchers can easily identify microbial species in bits of soil or water, for example. Now, investigators have demonstrated that it's possible to obtain useful samples of DNA from air. The findings could have a wide variety of applications in environmental and forensic science, or public health, for example.

Image credit: Pxhere

In a study reported in PeerJ in March of this year, scientists took samples of air by pumping it through a filter that was then collected, from a room where naked mole rats had lived. They were able to detect both naked mole rat DNA and human DNA in these samples.

"The use of eDNA has become a topic of increasing interest within the scientific community particularly for ecologists or conservationists looking for efficient and non-invasive ways to monitor biological environments," said first study author Dr. Elizabeth Clare, a Senior Lecturer at Queen Mary University of London. "Here we provide the first published evidence to show that animal eDNA can be collected from air, opening up further opportunities for investigating animal communities in hard to reach environments such as caves and burrows."

The scientists have already started a partnership with industry; they want to start to put this technology into practice, and noted that it has many different potential uses.

"For example, this technique could help us to better understand the transmission of airborne diseases such as COVID-19. At the moment social distancing guidelines are based on physics and estimates of how far away virus particles can move, but with this technique we could actually sample the air and collect real-world evidence to support such guidelines," said Clare.

In a recent study reported in bioRxiv, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, the investigators found that animal DNA could also be detected in air sample outdoors. They collected samples from inside and outside zoo buildings, and were able to identify seventeen species of animals that lived at the zoo or near it, like deer. Some airborne DNA from chicken and cows, likely related to food the animals are fed, was also identified.

One problem with the research that Clare acknowledged? Right now, there is no real negative control for this experiment. “I don’t know where to buy a balloon of sterile air," Clare told Science.

Sources: AAAS/Eurekalert! via Queen Mary University of London, Science, PeerJ

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
MAY 19, 2021
Cannabis Sciences
Why Don't Some People Get High from Cannabis Edibles?
MAY 19, 2021
Why Don't Some People Get High from Cannabis Edibles?
While eating cannabis products produces a potent high in many, some are unable to feel its effects when consumed in this ...
JUN 09, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Going to Bed an Hour Earlier Cuts Depression Risk Significantly
JUN 09, 2021
Going to Bed an Hour Earlier Cuts Depression Risk Significantly
Could it be possible to reduce the risk of developing depression by 23% simply by waking up an hour earlier? That's what ...
JUN 27, 2021
Cell & Molecular Biology
Organoids Reveal Common Mechanism Underlying Rare Disorders
JUN 27, 2021
Organoids Reveal Common Mechanism Underlying Rare Disorders
Genetic testing has shown that mutations in a gene called HUWE1 are connected to rare syndromes that cause developmental ...
JUN 30, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
A New Kind of Regulatory Element in the Genome
JUN 30, 2021
A New Kind of Regulatory Element in the Genome
The common, two-stranded helical structure of DNA was discovered over one hundred years ago. Many researchers would go o ...
JUL 15, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Host Genetics Can Influence the Microbiome
JUL 15, 2021
Host Genetics Can Influence the Microbiome
The human microbiome is intimately connected to our health; the genes and proteins expressed by gut microbes can influen ...
JUL 29, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Can Cats Help Us Learn More About Genomic Dark Matter?
JUL 29, 2021
Can Cats Help Us Learn More About Genomic Dark Matter?
Cats have been a part of human society for thousands of years, and now scientists are suggesting that they could help pr ...
Loading Comments...