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CSI meets environmental monitoring at University of Manitoba lab

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 4/26/2019 2:36:00 PM

Researchers at the University of Manitoba are now taking full advantage of leading-edge biodiversity monitoring technology, thanks to a $1,126,800-grant from the federal government. With the funding, the university has acquired an environmental DNA (eDNA) sequencing machine, allowing it to paint a far more thorough picture of an area’s biodiversity from simple samples of water or soil.

Biodiversity monitoring has traditionally been a relatively low-tech task, explained Jörg Stetefeld, Canada Research Chair in Structural Biology and Biophysics, to EcoLog News. Researchers would observe and count.

eDNA technology draws upon the minute traces of genetic material left by organisms in the environment. It is quicker, more accurate, more thorough and more cost-effective than older methods, and it holds the promise of revealing much more, such as the presence or emergence of disease among species, says Stetefeld.

The university has been using eDNA monitoring, he says, but the key task of DNA sequencing has had to be farmed out to labs in Quebec or California, a time-consuming and costly exercise. Now the university can do it all in-house. What once took six to eight weeks can now be done in a couple of hours, says Stetefeld.

Stetefeld is also a director of the university’s Centre for Oil and Gas Research and Development, which does environmental monitoring research on behalf of resource industries. Stetefeld says resource industries should not fear what eDNA might reveal. Resource industries are under legal and ethical obligations to leave the land much as they found it, he says. With eDNA technology, they’ll be able to do so with greater certainty.

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