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Speaker: Michelle Gaither, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biology
eDNA: The new frontier in coastal biodiversity monitoring
Living organisms constantly shed skin, cells and hair into their surrounding environment. For fish these materials include cells, mucus, scales, eggs and sperm — all of which contain DNA. This environmental DNA or “eDNA” is free-floating and can be collected from water samples. The samples are then processed in the lab and the eDNA is isolated and used to identify the recent inhabitants of that body of water. eDNA is rapidly emerging as a new tool to monitor and characterize marine communities because of how easy it is easy to collect water samples. In this presentation I will discuss results from a statewide eDNA survey of near shore-communities and discuss the relevance of these data to conservation and management of our coastal resources.
Dr. Gaither is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology and holds a secondary appointment with the National Center for Integrated Coastal Research. The research in her lab is centered on the evolution, ecology, and origin of biodiversity in marine fishes. They are a highly collaborative lab that employs an interdisciplinary approach combining molecular tools (genome sequencing, RADSeq, and targeted capture) with field-based studies to address one of the oldest yet still hotly debated questions in biology: how do species form and specifically what are the roles of geographic isolation, ecological differentiation, and selection in the diversification of lineages? Her lab has a number of ongoing projects involving deep-sea grenadiers, hawkfishes and surgeonfishes with a number of other projects in the works. More recently, her lab has been investigating the utility of eDNA as a biogeographic tool to identify patterns of biodiversity, study species distributions, and evaluate anthropogenic impacts on marine ecosystems.