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eDNA and the ALA

The Atlas of Living Australia is exploring the opportunities and implications of incorporating different types of data into its repository. In April, we attended a workshop on eDNA.

What happens if you know a species lives in a particular location but on the day you’re collecting data, the species doesn’t show up or you just miss it? The answer to this problem might lie in tiny DNA ‘breadcrumbs’ left behind in the environment. It might just be possible to take an environmental sample – e.g. soil or water – and analyse the DNA present in that sample to see what species have been in that environment recently. This process is called environmental DNA sampling.

The ALA is looking towards adding this type of DNA data into its repository.

The recent CSIRO eDNA workshop, held in Perth last month, brought together environmental DNA scientists from across CSIRO’s business units to discuss these issues, and develop recommendations for eDNA data projects.

The ALA has so far focused on occurrence data

The ALA currently brings together occurrence data from many different sources and makes it accessible to everyone. It has delivered impact across government, industry, and the public, and has also enabled solutions for countries all around the world to host their own national biodiversity information portals.

As technology has developed, so has the willingness to use and share data, and adopt different technologies to increase efficiencies and improve collaboration. The use of open source occurrence data to inform biological research, environmental management, and conservation planning, education and community engagement is now widely accepted.

New opportunities for the ALA

In addition to maintaining the infrastructure and responding to the needs of our users, the ALA also needs to look to the future and explore ways to enhance biodiversity data access. The big opportunity we face is how to incorporate different types of data.

Advances in DNA analysis and sequencing mean that the costs and times for sampling, processing and generating environmental DNA snapshots and genome maps have greatly reduced and the amount of data is increasing.

“We are interested in what role the ALA can play in making this data accessible as well as helping to establish standards and common practices for the management of DNA derived data,” said Michael Hope, ALA Project Manager.

For more information:

  • about the recent eDNA workshop, contact Cindy Bessey, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere
  • about the ALA’s project on eDNA, contact Michael Hope, ALA Project Manager