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Danish researchers introduce new DNA-method to track seawater fish

University of Copenhagen researchers have introduced a new way of monitoring marine biodiversity and resources with the use of DNA traces found in seawater samples, keeping track of fish and whales in the ocean.

The research shows that a half litre of sea water can actually contain ample amount of evidence regarding local fish and whale life. The results of their studies are published in PLOS ONE, an international scientific journal.

Philip Francis Thomsen, PhD student from the Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, said, “The new DNA-method means that we can keep better track of life beneath the surface of the oceans around the world, and better monitor and protect ocean biodiversity and resources”.

This DNA monitoring approach was developed by Thomsen and Master’s student Jos Kielgast, from the Centre of GeoGenetics headed by Professor Eske Willerslev.

As e! Science News reported, last December they showed that small freshwater samples contain DNA from several different threatened animals, and after having published these results they began to focus on seawater. Then they also proved possible to obtain DNA directly from the water, which came from species living locally in the area.

“We analyzed seawater samples specifically for fish DNA and we were very surprised when the results started to show up on the screen,” said Thomsen. “We ended up with DNA from 15 different fish species in water samples of just a half litre. We found DNA from both small and large fish, as well as both common species and rare guests.”

The researchers have also discovered that the approach of their study in not only limited to fish, but can likewise track down large marine mammals.

The study also compared the new DNA method with the existing traditional methods used for monitoring fish. According to the results, the new method has been proven to be as good or better than other existing traditional methods, and can be performed without impacting any local marine habitats and requires just a sample of water.

An Associate Professor and fish expert from the National History Museum of Denmark, Peter Rask Møller, is quite optimistic about the study.

“The new DNA method has very interesting perspectives for monitoring marine fish,” said Møller. “We always keep our eyes open for new methods to describe marine fish biodiversity in an efficient and standardised way.”

With the help of this DNA tracing approach, will scientist be able to unravel more of the many marine life mysteries?

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