Tuesday March 26, 2024

Alaska Public Media

Scientists have many ways to track fish populations – but they usually require seeing the fish. Now, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are refining a method to collect data about what fish were present in an area – up to two days after those fish have moved on.

Diana Baetscher is a research geneticist at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau.  She said that when fish swim, they shed scales, slime, and other tiny fragments into the water. Those fragments contain DNA – and they can provide a breadcrumb trail for scientists looking to learn about fish populations.

“eDNA is environmental DNA,” Baetscher said. ” It’s sort of a really simple concept. At its heart, it’s the fact that all organisms shed DNA or genetic material into the environment, and that can be water or air or soil.”

Baetscher said collecting environmental DNA, or eDNA, is less time-intensive than some other methods. Scientists can scoop up seawater and test it to get a picture of what species of fish have recently passed through. 

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