Scientists know more about space than they do about parts of our own planet: the deep seas.
These cold, dark, hard-to-reach zones host endless mysterious organisms and species that are yet to be identified. Now a team of scientists in Canada is pushing forward a method to identify them: Examining the DNA these creatures leave behind in seawater, per Popular Science.
A study outlining their work was published in PLOS ONE on Wednesday.
Environmental DNA metabarcoding, or eDNA, is an approach that sequences samples of seawater that hold bits of genetic code that's left behind from organisms. The hope is to discover more information about the population density and different varieties of species in the ocean.
The eDNA metabarcoding system has the word "barcode" in it because the species-specific DNA that is shed by the organisms can be read just like a barcode.
"There are parts of the genome of every organism that codes for genes that are specific for species," explained Mehrdad Hajibabaei, a professor of biology at the Integrative Biology & Biodiversity Institute of Ontario in Canada and one of the study's authors.
The study explained
The team applied eDNA metabarcoding to water samples from 4,600 feet (1,440 meters) deep. The members of the team found a way to collect the samples that yielded the most results, which required over six cups (1.5 liters). They were then observed in a lab.
The team is still working towards finding the perfect sample size to better read samples, and want to go even further into the deep oceans.
DNA is a great way to find signs of which animals live in which environments. Every living organism sheds DNA, be it from skin cells or feces, and with novel technologies reading genetic information better, a lot more light can be shed on our planet's organisms.
"It’s just a real game-changer for ocean science," Mark Stoekle, a senior researcher at The Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment who studies DNA barcoding and environmental DNA, said in Popular Science.