MAE: Molecular techniques

Molecular tools are becoming more and more advanced and cheap. DNA-based methods are increasingly used to monitor biodiversity, study population structure and differentiation and look at patterns of disease.

Monitoring biodiversity

In the North Sea, Marine Animal Ecology is working on developing accurate DNA-based tools to monitor biodiversity using eDNA from water samples and subsequent metabarcoding. The project is based on using the whole mitogenome for biodiversity assessments.

Artificial structure near which biodiversity assessments are made. Photo: Dr. R. Nijland.
Artificial structure near which biodiversity assessments are made. Photo: Dr. R. Nijland.

Population structure

Detecting population structure is essential to determine if populations are to be managed as distinct management units. Molecular techniques used include mitochondrial and microsatellite genetic marker studies, reduced representation genomics and whole genome work. Projects studying population structure in various systems include:

Marine lake in Indonesia. Photo: C. de Leeuw.
Marine lake in Indonesia. Photo: C. de Leeuw.

Disease patterns

Overfishing and other pressures can lead to severe population bottlenecks. Genetics is one way to look if populations are currently going through bottlenecks. This is exactly what a current project is doing for blacktip reef sharks that are increasingly showing a rare skin disease in the Maldives.

Blacktip reef sharks. Wild types and disease types with skin disorder. Credit: G. Kuguru.
Blacktip reef sharks. Wild types and disease types with skin disorder. Credit: G. Kuguru.

Techniques used & Implications

Molecular techniques are used in field monitoring and various experiments. By providing cost-effective tools, molecular techniques help to set biological and ecological baselines and work towards better ecosystem conservation.