Human DNA is everywhere: a boon to science, while terrifying others

Environmental DNA sampling is nothing new. Rather than having to discover or hunt an animal, DNA samples can instead be taken from the tracks they leave, giving clues about their genetic diversity, lineage (eg via mitochondrial DNA) and the health of the population. What surprised the University of Florida (UoF) researchers when they were using environmental DNA samples to study endangered sea turtles, was the amount of human DNA they found in their samples. This led them to conduct a study on human DNA, which they sampled in this way Curious effects.

Since genetic sequencing became possible, there have been many breakthroughs that have made it more accurate, cheaper, and more versatile. The argument by these UoF researchers in their paper in nature and its evolution is that although there is a lot of potential in sampling human environmental DNA (eDNA) to study populations much as is already done today with wastewater sampling, but more comprehensively. This could have huge benefits in studying human populations to a large extent how we monitor other animal species that already use eDNA and similar materials that are discarded daily as part of normal biological function.

The researchers were able to detect several genetic problems in the human eDNA they collected, demonstrating the feasibility of using it as a tool to monitor population health. A less dramatic implication of their findings was how difficult it would be to prevent contamination of samples with human DNA, which could affect studies. Meanwhile, the big DNA elephant in the room is single-level tracking, which is very exciting for researchers who monitor wild animal populations. Unlike those animals, Homo sapiens It is unique in that it objects to such eDNA-based surveillance on an individual level.

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It’s hard to say the full implications of these new tools, but it’s just one of the inevitable outcomes as our genetic sequencing methods improve and humans continue to dump their DNA all over the place.

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