A small water sample can tell us about biological diversity of the seas and oceans

The study of underwater creatures and plants given scientists quite heavily — most often this requires the descent of the scuba divers under the water, which costs money. Fortunately, sometimes they are able to replace visual inspection by scanning the so-called “environmental DNA”, which is a biological material released aquatic organisms. Because of this, scientists were able to determine the presence in certain areas of white sharks, and now they applied the method to detect the abundance and diversity of coral reefs.

Коралловые рифы

As mentioned, previously, this was done visually by a team of divers. Now researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa has decided to use for this purpose the method of metanarrative “environmental DNA” contained in water samples. This method of assessment of biological diversity involves identification of DNA and its sequencing — determining the amino acid or nucleotide sequence.

To the surprise of scientists, the method gave very accurate results. Specific DNA sequences has allowed scientists to understand which corals grow in a reef, and their concentration is directly said about their number. In short, the conclusion was that in the water with healthy coral reefs contain a lot of “environmental DNA”, and in the water with degraded reefs, they are much smaller.

I still amazed that in a small water sample with enough information to track relative abundance of entire communities.

Patrick Nichols, a graduate student of marine biology

The researchers hope that in this way they will also be able to track changes in the composition of reefs, and also find rare species of corals that may be missed by visual inspection. All this is possible — a few years ago, researchers used water samples for the detection of extremely rare and huge whale sharks.

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