‘eDNA’ helps UVic researchers identify endangered species across BC


WATCH: A new tool at UVic is helping researchers identify the most at risk animals. Aaron Guillen reports.

It’s been in the making for years.

“It’s changing the way that we’re thinking about environmental monitoring,” says Michael Allison, UVic Lab Manager.

Michael Allison, research assistant at UVic, says eDNA is an important asset for the future.

A breakthrough tool that’s used to identify endangered species like like these who inhabit our island and around the province. With the studies completed in part by Hemmera Environchem Inc., UVic researchers are hopeful for the possibilities the future holds.

“We can actually take advantage of the fact that these species will slough off DNA off their cells and into their nearby environment,” shares Caren Helbing, UVic Professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology.

Researchers at UVic take scoops of water from a pond and test them using eDNA, which stands for environmental DNA. The process then measures the DNA that every organism leaves behind, like skin cells, feces, and mucus. 

Traditionally, researchers would have to see the animals to document their data. From 2000 to 2013, their search for the coastal tailed frog, an at risk species, came up with around 8 per cent detection.

The coastal tailed frog, an at-risk species, in its natural habitat nearby the town of Lilooet, BC. (Photo: Jared Hobbs ©)

With eDNA, over the span of 5 days, their detection leapt to 76 per cent.

“What we’re essentially doing is CSI for wildlife,” explains Helbing.

“We rely on their DNA code in order to develop these sensitive test and we really need to know more about those to make eDNA a more generally viable and applicable test.”

Caren Helbing, UVic Professor of Biochemistry and Microbiology, says eDNA is a ‘game-changer for science’.

It was once a process that saw researchers tearing through a thriving habitat to collect data. Now, eDNA saves not just the species they’re studying, but also where they live.

Aaron GuillenAaron Guillen

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