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First Poop, Now Leeches

A team of researchers published a study last September describing efforts to measure the biodiversity of an area by collecting soil samples and sequencing the DNA from the various skin, scales, and waste samples present. Now, says Nature News' Ewen Callaway, researchers are collecting DNA from bloodsucking leeches to find DNA from a rare Asian antelope called the saola. "The saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) was first described from skulls found in a Vietnamese forest reserve, but the elusive antelope has rarely been seen alive," Callaway says. "Little is known about its range or population, which probably numbers in the low hundreds." Leeches can store DNA from their meals for months at a time, so by taking samples from leeches within the saola's estimated range, the team hopes to gauge biodiversity more efficiently than by conventional means like camera traps, he adds. Joseph Fourier University geneticist Pierre Taberlet tells Callaway that "I am almost sure that in 10 years all the research on biodiversity will be done with DNA, because it will be so easy to get this type of information and the cost is not very high."

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