Culture and heritage

Pioneering DNA project maps local biodiversity

A person collecting a water sample from a river.

A pioneering local company that can analyse a drop of water or a speck of dust to find traces of DNA is set to grow thanks to a grant from the City of Melbourne.

Helen Barclay, Managing Director of EnviroDNA, said her team helps protect biodiversity by rapidly detecting and monitoring populations of animals and other organisms.

‘We can detect native and invasive species, from threatened fish to invasive mosquitoes and everything in between – even bacteria,’ Helen said.

‘In particular, eDNA comes in handy for very secretive animals, like the platypus. eDNA methods have helped to map platypus populations across 126 waterways in greater Melbourne.’

In Australia, extinction rates are higher for some native animals than anywhere else in the world, and this is expected to increase. Detection and monitoring is critical to informing how we look after Australia’s biodiversity.

However, monitoring methods can be limited, ineffective and costly.

The breakthrough eDNA service is the first of its kind in Australia, providing a highly sensitive and cost-effective monitoring option for specific species and biodiversity in general.

It is already used by waterway and environmental managers, catchment authorities, and conservation parks.

‘Discovering what animals pop up in a drop of water is pretty exciting stuff,’ Helen said.

‘We envisage a future where anyone – environmental managers and citizens alike – can easily discover what creatures live around them.’

What is eDNA?

All organisms leave traces of DNA – or eDNA – in the environment, and scientists have now worked out how to extract this DNA and identify it. This means we no longer need to see, hear or catch something to know what is or isn’t present in our waterways and surrounding environment.

For more information, visit Small Business Grants.

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