Researchers from UZH and Eawag have used “environmental DNA” to determine the biodiversity of a river. Previously, this involved collecting and identifying all the organisms living in it. Using environmental DNA, however, not only is it possible to characterize the river’s biodiversity, but also that of the surrounding landscape.
Most natural ecosystems are heavily affected by changes to the human habitat, climate change or invasive species. In order to protect these ecosystems, one needs to know which organisms live in them. Therefore, assessing the state of and change in biodiversity is central to ecology and conservation biology. However, classical methods are often only suitable for determining a subset of organisms. Moreover, they are expensive and involve collecting the organisms themselves.
Sampling of 1 liter of river water, in order to subsequently extract DNA from the organisms living in the river.
Recently, scientists came up with the idea of collecting the DNA of organisms from environmental samples instead, such as soil or water, and determining the various species that way. All organisms constantly shed DNA into the environment, such as via feces or skin particles.
This environmental DNA is sequenced using state-of-the-art technology and subsequently matched with databases to determine the species. “This completely novel approach has the potential to revolutionize the study of biodiversity,” says Florian Altermatt, a professor at the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag).
DNA from mayflies and beavers
Altermatt and his team at Eawag in Dübendorf recently provided practical evidence of this idea by collecting water at various points in the Glatt, a river in the Canton of Zurich, and subsequently extracting all the DNA. “We collected a liter of water, which meant we could extract DNA from a staggering number of species, from aquatic insects, such as mayflies, to the beaver who lives further upstream,” explains study coordinator Altermatt. DNA from thousands of organisms was compared with traditional estimates of biodiversity. This confirmed that the organisms detected actually live in this environment.
In previous studies, the authors had already demonstrated that rivers transport DNA for several kilometers. “This opens up completely novel approaches to collect information on the diversity of organisms in river systems,” says Altermatt. “We can now potentially determine biodiversity in a similar way to the chemistry of the water.” Not only do the individual water samples contain information on aquatic organisms, but also land organisms found along the river. Consequently, the scientists gained a fingerprint of the organisms living in entire catchment areas and demonstrate the potential of environmental DNA for determining the biodiversity of all animals, from aquatic insects to mammals.
Routinely determining biodiversity
The study conducted by the UZH researchers reveals that, through their unique network structure, rivers collect and transport DNA containing information on the organisms in the water and on land. As the method can be automated, it might be possible to obtain data on biodiversity in an unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution in the future. “I could imagine that the water samples currently taken by cantonal or federal authorities on a daily or even hourly basis for chemical screening could also be used to record biodiversity,” speculates Altermatt.
Kristy Deiner, Emanuel A. Fronhofer, Elvira Mächler, Jean-Claude Walser and Florian Altermatt. Environmental DNA reveals that rivers are conveyer belts of biodiversity information. Nature Communications. August 30, 2016. Doi: 10.1038/ncomms12544
Prof. Florian Altermatt
Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
University of Zurich
Phone: +41 58 765 55 92 / +41 79 222 98 10
Nathalie Huber | Universität Zürich
Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society
Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
25.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
25.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
25.04.2017 | Life Sciences