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Integration of Environmental DNA (eDNA) at the SmartBay Observatory to Monitor Marine Biodiversity

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Image 1: Heading to the SmartBay Test Site for deployment

Researchers from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) are currently using the SmartBay sub-sea observatory in Galway Bay to validate the integration of environmental DNA (eDNA) approaches for monitoring marine biodiversity in the bay. eDNA is an emerging tool that relies on the acquisition of nucleic acids (also known as DNA and RNA) from environmental samples, such as water, to virtually detect any species that have shed 'biological traces' and hence occur in a specific environment. The project is using a programmable filtration sampler to filter large volumes of water, which are subsequently processed by means of High Throughput Sequencing (HTS), and metabarcoding analysis to obtain lists of species whose DNA has been captured by the sampler. An initial validation step has combined eDNA data with underwater video data from the observatory live feed camera to compare lists of fish species recorded by each method, providing corroborative insights on the effectiveness of each approach. The ultimate goal of the project is to extend the analysis to a wider taxonomic spectrum and eventually allow us to monitor the occurrence of marine alien invasive species.

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Image 2: Large volume eDNA sampler (Applied Genomics)

Dr Luca Mirimin (GMIT), who is coordinating several research projects utilising eDNA to monitor communities of ecologically and economically important aquatic species in Irish marine and freshwater ecosystems, commented:

“Accessing such a state-of-the-art facility allows not only to test new approaches but also to validate such approaches in a multi-disciplinary framework. Corroborating eDNA data with other indirect methods (such as video or acoustic data) linked to real-time oceanographic metadata offers an invaluable opportunity to fully assess the feasibility and applicability of novel technologies and approaches.

In addition to this, in situ observatories such as SmartBay attract researchers from different disciplines and enables collaborations that will lead to the establishment of effective monitoring pipelines in the marine environment.”

Alan Berry, the Marine Institute’s Research Infrastructures Manager, noted that:

“SmartBay Observatory’s video imaging and acoustic recordings are now being complemented with GMIT’s in situ eDNA sequencing technology creating a truly ‘augmented observatory’ by allowing the traceability of a wide range of organisms thus shining a new light on marine scientific research and producing new knowledge for improving marine ecosystem management.”

This project is one of seven projects awarded under the 2018/2019 National Infrastructure Access Programme funding call. The National Infrastructure Access Programme is funded by the Marine Institute under the Marine Research Programme with the support of the Irish Government.