Fishery researchers, engineering students work to build better eDNA collectors
Last month, Jessica Glass and two students departed for the Kenai Peninsula toting a tub full of items that looked like plastic children’s toys. Their plan for the six-day trip: Dunk them in Kasitsna Bay and see what happens.
It may sound like a quirky week at the beach, but Glass, an assistant professor at UAF’s College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, hopes their project will lead to a breakthrough in environmental DNA sampling.
The research team is looking for a better way to collect eDNA, which is found in trace amounts of biological material in bodies of water. By analyzing eDNA they can determine what organisms are present, from migrating salmon to invasive crabs to toxic algae.
Glass and her team are testing three 3D-printed designs for collecting those samples: a shallow cylinder, a sphere that looks like a wiffle ball, and a miniature rocket ship. Glass, CFOS graduate student Maris Goodwin, and UAF mechanical engineering students George Deal and Andrew Wilson created the rocket design, using an aquarium back in Fairbanks to test their prototype.
Commercial water samplers are available, but they can cost thousands of dollars. Glass wanted to find a less expensive approach.
“To my knowledge, nothing exists like this,” she said. “To have something made by two undergrads that costs maybe $5, it just shows how much you can do without a lot.”
Glass and two students – lab manager Amy Whitney and incoming CFOS freshman Franchezca Correa – tested the prototypes by deploying 108 samples from kayaks during a six-day visit to Kasitsna Bay in late June. The testing trip was funded by the Alaska Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, known as EPSCoR.
The research team will spend the rest of the summer analyzing those samples, seeing which designs work best and whether they’re viable for collecting eDNA.
A simple working design would be a boon for gathering samples, Glass said, allowing students and volunteers to help collect data throughout Alaska.
“There are so many applications for passive sampling – you can put them under the sea ice, you can leave them in the river.” she said. “From a citizen science perspective, I think this would have a lot of utility.”