A collection of scientists intend on discovering once and for all if Scotland's most well-known inhabitant, the Loch-Ness Monster, presently or ever had been tucked away in it's watery depths by ordering as many fragments of DNA as they can discover in the the gloomy waters of the lake.
Ever since April 2018, the University of Otago's international research team, led by the University of Otago's geneticist, Neil Gemmell, has brought samples of water from the iconic freshwater lake. In June, Gemmell's team will start to extract DNA from samples, partially hunting for the genetic fingerprint of Nessie.
By January 2019, the team has the expectation of making known their findings. In the meantime, though, the project will be throwing a spotlight onto environmental DNA, or rather, eDNA for short, a fairly new field of study that is providing scientists with insights that are unparalleled.
Speculating what the project of Loch Ness is all about? National Geographic have the answers.
Environmental DNA. What is it?
Going about their day-to-day lives, organisms discard parts of themselves behind. That includes eggs, sperm, poop, skin, you name it. The bio-schmutz incorporates samples of the organisms' DNA, which subsequently gets churned into the dirt and water that surrounds it. It means that just one vial of water or soil is able to behave as an accidental genetic library. Scientists can decode and isolate the eDNA and compare it next to a database of identified DNA patterns to work out exactly which creatures left it there.
The database of references has recently shattered, as additional patterns accumulate and the price of
Recently, the reference database has exploded in size as more sequences pile up and the price of sequencing continues to plummet. The amount of DNA Genbank bases, a significant DNA database run by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, has doubled every 18 months, ever since 1982. At present, it holds over 260 trillion pairs of DNA that is spread out across over 200 million patterns.
How does environmental DNA help science?
Environmental DNA is so powerful because researchers can get a genetic snapshot for an entire eco-system in one giant swoop.
A University of Otago researcher that works with Gemmell, Helen Taylor,stated in a 2017 blog post about eDNA, “Imagine being able to take soil or water samples from an ecosystem and catalogue every species living in that ecosystem [...] No more invasive sampling or taking whole organisms back to the lab to ID them under a microscope.”