Scientists are using autonomous underwater robots to sample eDNA

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a new and reliable approach for marine research, conservation, and management, however the methods are time and cost intensive, limiting the scope of adoption. Without visual or aural observations, the instrument recognized organisms from all domains of life in the surroundings.

A new study by MBARI experts is employing autonomous underwater robots to gather environmental DNA, which is a big step forward for monitoring the biodiversity of marine systems (eDNA). The long-range autonomous underwater vehicle (LRAUV) and the Environmental Sample Processor were united (ESP).

The LRAUV is a little robot that can go to far-flung ocean locations and stay for extended periods of time. The ESP is a robotic "laboratory-in-a-can" that filters seawater while also saving eDNA for future studies.

Scientists can enhance the scope of ocean monitoring throughout time and space by integrating both methods. This type of technological advancement is transforming ocean conservation efforts. Both technologies allowed scientists to keep a constant presence in the water and track changes in vulnerable ecosystems in ways that were previously impossible.

“Organisms move as conditions change in our oceans and Great Lakes, affecting the people and economies that rely on those species. We need cheaper and more nimble approaches to monitor biodiversity on a large scale. This study provides the synergistic development of eDNA and uncrewed technologies we need in direct response to priorities laid out in the NOAA Omics Strategic Plan,” said Kelly Goodwin, a co-author of the paper and collaborator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Three trips in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary were undertaken in partnership with the NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory and the University of Washington. MBARI's three research vessels, the NOAA Fisheries ship Reuben Lasker, and a fleet of MBARI's LRAUVs worked together to gather samples.

Water samples were collected and preserved by scientists by lowering bottles to a specific depth. Meanwhile, eDNA was obtained and maintained at identical depths and locations using an LRAUV equipped with an ESP. The eDNA samples were returned to the lab to be examined further.
Scientists studied eDNA samples and converted the data into a biodiversity estimate using a process known as metabarcoding. They discovered four distinct types of gene markers, each of which corresponded to a different level of the food web.

The combined data gave a more complete picture of the community's makeup. Samples acquired from research ships and autonomous vehicles revealed similar biodiversity trends.

“The findings from the study mark an exciting step forward for monitoring marine ecosystems. This work is all about increasing the scale of eDNA research. Instead of looking at an individual species, we can start to characterize biological community structure in the ocean more broadly,” said Kobun Truelove, a biological oceanographer at MBARI. The goal of this project is to expand the scope of eDNA research.

“Good data are the bedrock of sustainable ocean management. Regular environmental DNA monitoring tells us who is there and what changes over time. When it comes to an understanding of the impacts of climate change—one of the biggest threats to ocean health—this information is essential,” stated Francisco Chavez, MBARI Senior Scientist and co-author of the study. Regular DNA monitoring of the environment reveals who is present and what changes over time.

To improve global ocean health, these data gaps must be filled in. Ship-based research will continue to be important in oceanographic studies, but adding new autonomous technology to the arsenal will improve research, monitoring, and resource management capabilities.
Scientists are using autonomous underwater robots to sample eDNA Scientists are using autonomous underwater robots to sample eDNA Reviewed by Lilit on May 24, 2022 Rating: 5
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