Researchers have been able to isolate DNA from the footprints polar bears leave behind in the snow, Reuters reports.
Typically, researchers track rare animals like polar bears, snow leopards, and orangutans and collect DNA from sources like hair or feces left in their wake. These DNA samples allow the investigators, Reuters notes, to study the animal's population size and movements, as well as develop conservation strategies.
But if DNA could be gleaned from footprints, it would easier and cheaper for researchers to track these rare animals.
"This is the first time we have got polar bear DNA from a track sample in the snow," Eva Bellemain from SpyGen, a French environmental DNA analysis firm, tells Reuters. The paw prints were collected by the Norwegian Polar Institute, WWF, and Canon on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.
The group also found DNA evidence from a seal the polar bear killed and a seagull seen nearby. The team notes that DNA breaks down more slowly in polar regions, making the bears a good study species.