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Here Be Wildebeests

Ecologists usually work by catching and tagging as many animals as they can in order to determine biodiversity, but an easier method may be "just beneath their feet," says Nature News' Amy Maxmen. A new study published in Molecular Ecology shows that soil containing fragments of DNA may work just as well to accurately capture the animal diversity of an area, Maxmen says. The new technique requires far less time and energy than the old method, and doesn't risk causing the animals harm. Using the DNA left behind in skin cells, scales, or waste, the researchers can determine not only which species of animals were once present in an area, but also how many of each species were there. To prove that the method works, the team took DNA samples from farms and safari parks, extracted the DNA from the soil and sequenced the fragments. "When they compared individual sequences to the millions of sequences stored in the DNA database GenBank, they found all the animals they expected," Maxmen says. "The quantity of a species' DNA recovered roughly reflected the number of animals of that species present, after adjusting for body weight." And, she adds, the technique could be used to identify not only the animals currently living in the area, but the animals that were living there, as much as two months before. Digging deeper into the dirt could uncover the biodiversity of an area going back thousands of years, the researchers add.

The Scan

CDC Calls Delta "Variant of Concern"

CNN reports the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now considers the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 to be a "variant of concern."

From FDA to Venture Capital

Former FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn is taking a position at a venture capital firm, leading some ethicists to raise eyebrows, according to the Washington Post.

Consent Questions

Nature News writes that there are questions whether informed consent was obtained for some submissions to a database of Y-chromosome profiles.

Cell Studies on Multimodal Single-Cell Analysis, Coronaviruses in Bats, Urban Microbiomes

In Cell this week: approach to analyze multimodal single-cell genomic data, analysis of bat coronaviruses, and more.