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DNA That Floats Behind

Researchers are surveying the oceans to see who is living where by analyzing the DNA they leave behind, Wired reports.

By outfitting underwater drones with Oxford Nanopore Minion sequencers, Wired writes that researchers can sample and analyze these environmental DNA samples without the technology even leaving the water. This, it says, enables sampling to occur over longer periods of time and during rougher seas. 

For instance, Wired notes that researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute have used this approach to develop a "DNA map" of the fish off the coast and are adapting it for use in freshwater streams to follow salmon and trout as the spawn. Other researchers are studying the diversity of populations of coral reefs or New York Harbor.

The approach could also be used to monitor the environmental impact of certain projects, it adds. "There's a need to monitor the oceans more closely, because we are doing more in the ocean, such as building wind farms and pipelines and natural gas and oil extraction," Mark Stoeckle from Rockefeller University tells Wired. "These are all things that may be beneficial economically, but we want to know what we are doing to the environment."