Tag Archives: dna

Surprises From the Past: The Revelations of Ancient DNA

Forest Tundra on the Taymyr Peninsula between Dudinka and Norilsk near Kayerkan, Russia, taken in 2016. Was it always look like this? Should it look like this?
Image Credit: Ninaras, CC BY 4.0, Image Cropped

Although obtaining ancient DNA can be quite a headache, it is a very rewarding headache. After all the work that goes into obtaining DNA from a bone, fur, hair, or Viking’s leftover meal, researchers have to make sense of the apparent random sequence of nucleotide bases. But once that’s taken care of, there are a series of really interesting questions we can start to answer. Were DNA strands that are present in the modern times inherited from the past? How similar are today’s species to their forebears? Where is my pet velociraptor?

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Using eDNA to Avoid Being Eaten on the Job

Image Credit: pxfuel, CC0 1.0, Image Cropped

Monitoring the silver carp invasion in Africa: a case study using environmental DNA (eDNA) in dangerous watersheds (2020) Crookes et al., NeoBiota, http://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.56.47475

The Crux

One thing the last two months have taught us all is that testing for a problem is crucial. The earlier you catch a problem, the more of a chance you have to stop that problem spreading. Coronavirus is one example, invasive species is another. Detecting an invader arriving early on means you can potentially remove it before it has become properly established, saving millions of dollars down the line.

But often testing isn’t practical. Take freshwater environments. Sometimes a river may be hard to get to. Sometimes it may be infested with crocodiles and hippos. Makes regular testing methods like electrofishing or gillnetting a bit tricky.

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The Revolutionary Headache of Ancient DNA

Ancient DNA can teach us a great deal about prehistoric life. So why is it so troublesome? (Image Credit: Flying Puffin, CC BY-SA 2.0)

When we’ve talked about type specimens on Ecology for the Masses, we‘ve spent a lot of time emphasising how important it is to preserve them. Bottom line is, if they get destroyed, there are a lot of really important biological questions that become very difficult to answer.

Thankfully, landmark leaps in technology have made it  possible to extract DNA from those specimens and store them in a public repository (e.g. the NCBI nucleotide database). So then even if a specimen is lost, the DNA would still be there and could be compared to that of other specimens to figure out if it’s the same species. Sounds like a clever and straightforward thing to do, but as always, it’s more complicated in reality.

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The Why and How of Genetic Diversity

Whilst cichlid fish might look incredibly diverse, they are actually all relatively genetically similar. So how do we define genetic diversity, and how do we conserve it? (Image Credit: Emir Kaan Okutan, Pexels Licence, Image Cropped)

Biodiversity has become an immensely popular buzzword over the last few decades. Yet the concept of genetic diversity has been less present in everyday ecological conversations. So today I want to go through why genetic diversity is important, how we define it, and why there is often controversy about its application in conservation science. Read more

Donald Hobern: Cataloguing the Planet’s DNA

I spoke with GBIF’s executive secretary and amateur lepidopterist Donald Hobern about how DNA barcoding fits into modern conservation and ecology (Image Credit: Donald Hobern, CC BY-2.0, Image Cropped)

DNA barcoding has revolutionised science. Ask anyone working in evolution or taxonomy these days what the biggest changes are the they’ve seen in their discipline, chances are it’ll be to do with gene sequencing and DNA processing. So when the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) Conference came to Trondheim last week, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the behind the scenes work that goes into cataloguing the DNA barcodes of life on earth.

I sat down with Donald Hobern, Executive Secretary of iBOL and former Executive Secretary of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and Director of the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA). Donald joined iBOL just as they launched BIOSCAN, a $180 million dollar program which aims to accelerate the cataloguing of the world’s biodiversity in DNA form. We spoke about BIOSCAN, the technology behind bringing occurrence and genetic data together, and how the work iBOL and GBIF do ties into the bigger picture of global conservation and sustainability.

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Paul Hebert: The Inventory of Life

I spoke to Professor Paul Hebert, the "grandfather of DNA barcoding", on his attempt to classify all muticellular life

Image Credit: Paul Hebert, University of Guelph, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped

Humans have always tried to categorise the world around us. From our early interpretation of the four elements to Linnaeus’ revolutionary system in the 1700s, we’ve always sought to understand better the life that we share the planet with. On my visit to the University of Guelph this year, I was able to sit down with a scientist who is attempting to classify all multi-cellular life.

Professor Paul Hebert is Scientific Director of the International Barcode of Life project, a consortium whose goal it is to document all life on our planet. I spoke with the man nicknamed the “father of DNA barcoding” about the magic that has revolutionised biodiversity science in the last 50 years, and how it’s being used today.

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