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Airborne Animal DNA

DNA wafting in the air can be used to identify animals that live in the area, a finding that could be a boon for conservation research, the Economist writes.

Such environmental DNA sampling has previously been applied to survey aquatic environments — including a study of Loch Ness that did not uncover any evidence of monster DNA but did find a lot of eel DNA. Two research groups, one in Denmark and one in the UK, have now applied the idea to the air, testing it at zoos where a known variety of animals live.

Both groups report in separate Current Biology papers this week that they were able to detect the DNA of dozens of different vertebrate species through air sampling. The University of Copenhagen's Kristine Bohmann and her colleagues detected 49 different vertebrate species, including zoo residents, animal living around the zoo, and those used as food sources, in their sampling of the Copenhagen Zoo. The UK-led team, meanwhile, identified DNA from 25 different species from air samples collected at the Hamerton Zoo Park.

Air-based eDNA detection, the Economist adds, could not only be used monitor the presence of certain animals in the wild, particularly potentially invasive species, but also someday help gauge when a native species has had a decline in numbers.