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DNA floating in the air can be used to identify nearby animals - Natural History Museum

Air samples collected in zoos were used to identify animals both nearby and further away using environmental DNA. Image ©Christian Bendix
Air samples collected in zoos were used to identify animals both nearby and further away using environmental DNA. Image ©Christian Bendix

Animals can be detected from hundreds of metres away by the presence of their DNA in the air.

Two teams of researchers independently demonstrated that species could be identified from airborne genetic material, offering the potential to revolutionise the monitoring and conservation of wild animals.

Scientists have been able to identify an animal's presence without even being in the same room as them, just by sampling the air.

Teams working in the UK and Denmark independently showed that the identity of zoo animals could be narrowed down to the species solely from fragments of the animal's DNA floating through the air, even if they were hundreds of metres away.

The findings of both studies, published in Current Biology, have the potential to transform the ways scientists look for wild animals, especially rare species whose conservation depends on finding individuals in the wild.

Dr Elizabeth Clare, lead author of one of the papers, says, ‘The non-invasive nature of this approach makes it particularly valuable for observing vulnerable or endangered species as well as those in hard-to-reach environments, such as caves and burrows. They do not have to be visible for us to know they are in the area if we can pick up traces of their DNA, literally out of thin air. Air sampling could revolutionise terrestrial biomonitoring and provide new opportunities to track the composition of animal communities as well as detect the invasion of non-native species.'


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Posted On: 07/01/2022

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