Whatʼs going on here?

Air quality monitoring stations dotted around the planet have been inadvertently collecting airborne environmental DNA (eDNA) without anybody noticing, finds a new report.

The remarkable discovery reveals that thousands of filters routinely testing for pollutants are unintentionally breathing in trace eDNA shed by animals, plants, and fungi.

What does this mean?

In recent years, researchers have discovered eDNA can be collected from the air. Among these scientists are Joanne Littlefair and Elizabeth Clare, who have been looking at different ways to do this. 

As part of their research, they looked at filter samples from 2 air quality monitoring stations: one in London and another outside Edinburgh. Inside the samples they found evidence of 180 species. It included the DNA of hedgehogs, badgers, deer, dormice, owls, songbirds, and trees like oak, linden, and ash. Their DNA was shed in bits of fur, feathers, scales, and pollen.

“It was all there collected on these tiny filters. It’s unbelievably exciting,” said Clare in this Air Quality News report.

Why should we care?

Wildlife populations plummeted by nearly 70% between 1970 and 2016, according to the WWF Living Planet Report 2022. The environmental NGO says the biodiversity crisis is an economic, development, security, social, moral, and ethical issue. 

To meet global targets to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030, the world needs to understand how populations are changing, says Carbon Brief’s report on the findings. Collecting eDNA can help us do that.

With the infrastructure already in place, this is a “tremendous opportunity to collect high-resolution biodiversity data on national scales”, say the authors of the study.

Be Curious!

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

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