Author: Mukul Vyas
Detectives and investigators will not have to pick up DNA samples from the surface to catch a criminal in the future. They will collect DNA samples from the air and find the culprit. You will be surprised to know that we leave our DNA everywhere. Fractions of our DNA are also present in the air. Researchers have collected animal-DNA from air samples for the first time. The DNA released by humans and other animals into the environment is called environmental DNA. It is also called scientific ‘EDNA’. Scientists have been extracting eDNA from water samples to detect species living in water for some time, but no one has yet tried to extract animal-eDNA from the air.
Elizabeth Claire, an ecologist at Queens Mary University in London and lead author of the study, said that we wanted to see if we could detect the presence of ground animals by filtering the EDNA from the air. He said that we are also interested in finding out if EDNA can be used to get an idea of the creatures living in burrows or caves. The species living in these places are difficult to access or capture.
In his experiment, Claire and his colleagues tried to collect eDNA from an animal facility where the naked mole rate (a rat from East Africa) was kept. Surprisingly, the researchers found both the naked mole rate and the DNA of humans from air samples collected from this animal’s enclosure and fenced house. Ecologist Matthew Barnes of Texas Tech University in the United States said that this experiment proves, DNA of large animals can also be collected from air samples. Barnes said that we can detect forest organisms that are at risk of extinction by airborne DNA.
Researchers will use this technique in the future to monitor species living in inaccessible sites. The presence of human DNA in the animal enclosure surprised the researchers. Barnes said that finding human DNA in almost every sample was also a major obstacle. On one hand, it shows that this method of detection is very sensitive. On the other hand, it also shows that air samples can also be contaminated by the research team’s DNA. To avoid such pollution, researchers have to use air filters, gowns and hair nets etc. so that they cannot mix their DNA in air samples.
The last decade began with the compilation and analysis of eDNA for the study and management of botanical species and fauna. Prior to this study, some researchers tried to collect botanical DNA from the air. Most of these experiments involved plants that release DNA in the air in the form of pollen and seeds. It is obvious that animals do not do this. But they continue to release their DNA into the atmosphere through their sputum and skin cells. This new discovery by scientists can develop a new field of aerial DNA analysis. The technology that was developed only for the purpose of environmental assessment can also be very useful in medicine, criminology and anthropology. With the help of new technology, we can better understand the diseases spread through the air like Kovid. Currently, the rules of social distancing have been formulated on the basis of the extent of penetration of viruses in the air. But with the new technology we can determine the more effective rules of social distancing by collecting real samples from the air. Researchers are now in talks with companies for the diverse use of this technology.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own