Shark eDNA study could be conservation ‘game-changer’

BBC News
17 March 2015

Conservationists are eagerly awaiting the results of a UK study into whether it is possible to track endangered sharks via environmental DNA (eDNA).

If successful, it could result in scientists being able to create global maps of life beneath the waves.

Current methods are costly and labour intensive, requiring teams to spend long periods at sea with no guarantee of getting the required information.

Almost half of all known shark species are classified as data deficient.

“Basically, all living things are made of tissue and if you break them down into smaller and smaller units, you end up with cells,” explained lead scientist Stefano Mariani from the University of Salford.

“Every cell of every organism contains DNA. Every time an organism loses bits – this could be the result of dying, producing eggs or losing some skin, spitting or pooing – there are cells containing DNA.

“Theoretically, it is possible to trawl water and retrieve some DNA coming from this environment,” he told BBC News.

Prof Mariani and his colleague, PhD student Judith Bakker, hope their study will help shed light on the feasibility of a new method to gather data on shark populations around the globe and overcome obstacles that have hampered efforts to date.

“For example, if you go to a rainforest and you know there are a bunch of jaguars spread over hundreds of kilometres, you are not going to see them unless you spend many months in the wild or you install camera traps,” Prof Mariani observed.

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