Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

eDNA - The new environmental monitoring technique

Environmental DNA, also known as eDNA, is a new technique being used for environmental monitoring. It is to replace the existing, more traditional monitoring techniques as it is both faster, easier and more accurate than its predecessors according to a report from DCE - National Centre for Environment and Energy.

2019.03.14 | Kristian Laulund

The use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for environmental monitoring has been presented as a technique to replace existing traditional monitoring techniques, being faster, easier and more accurate. Both the technical and economic development in the area is currently very fast and ambitions for the use of eDNA for environmental monitoring are high. In both aquatic and terrestrial environments detection of specific species or groups of organisms as well as biodiversity assessment have shown promising results with eDNA.

However, several technological and data assessment issues have to be resolved prior to full implementation in environmental monitoring. Sharing, harmonizing and consolidating the available knowledge are therefore of prime importance in order to develop standardized procedures throughout all the steps of the process (e.g. sampling, DNA extraction, amplification primers and conditions, bioinformatic analysis) including handling of false positives and negatives. Databased scientific literature clearly demonstrates that even though sampling might be easier and faster, sequencing library preparation is still costly, although continuously decreasing, while standardized bioinformatics procedures (pipelines) make bioinformatic analyses more efficient. 

eDNA-based results generally show different aspects of the environmental state with increasing detailed knowledge on a different scale than traditional monitoring. This applies to both biodiversity and species-specific occurrence and abundance. The conventional long time series of environmental monitoring is of high value and great care should be taken not to compromise these without careful evaluation of the benefits of moving to eDNA approaches.

If all environmental monitoring is converted to eDNA and a stop is put to collecting specimens for collections, the possibility of certain studies requiring e.g. long time series will be lost. Therefore, it is recommended to perform parallel monitoring with eDNA-based techniques and the traditional monitoring until sufficient experience and data have been obtained to be able to follow the environmental state back to the time before eDNA monitoring.

Future techniques will probably allow metabarcoding based on longer reads thanks to advances in sequencing technologies. Another branch of eDNA analysis is expected to focus on direct sequencing of eDNA omitting PCR and the biases associated with this. In addition, the bioinformatics analyses are anticipated to be standardized and detailed in standard operating procedures. In situ monitoring will most likely be possible, either through autonomous samplers coupled with qPCR assays or portable sequencers.

Read the full report here

For further information contact Anne Winding

Mail: aw@envs.au.dk

Telephone: +4587158615

DCE, Public / media