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Local News

Using Environmental DNA to detect invasive species

Dan McClelland

Along the east coast of Lake Ontario researchers are using a unique tool to detect invasive fish species long before they cause environmental harm.
Known as environmental DNA or (eDNA) this technique uses a process of extracting microscopic DNA cells from water samples, amplifying them and comparing them to known DNA of invasive fish from other parts of the world. This process can detect as little as (one cell) from the target species and the earlier an invasive species can be detected, the more prepared conservationists and stakeholders can be to address them.
According to Rob Williams of the SLELO PRISM “using DNA from aquatic environments constitutes early detection at the molecular level – its gives us a strategic advantage in dealing with an invasive species before the damage occurs”.
Researchers from the SLELO PRISM (St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) and Cornell University recently collected numerous water samples from Eastern Lake Ontario tributaries and analyzed them for DNA of select invasive species including two native species.
 Of the six invasive species researched only one, the Round Goby, was present in all samples tested. Native species were also found in most samples which included Rock Bass and Cisco with the latter still being analyzed.
Williams also stated “invasive species cause damage to our ecosystems very rapidly, early detection is key and eDNA is an excellent tool to help us protect our Great Lakes and inland waterways”.