A new DNA reference library which is set to transform how Australia monitors biodiversity was announced today by CSIRO — Australia’s national science agency — along with the library’s first campaign which is supported by founding partner, Minderoo Foundation.
The National Biodiversity DNA Library (NDBL) aims to create a complete collection of DNA reference sequences for all known Australian animal and plant species. Just like COVID wastewater testing, it will enable DNA detected in the environment to be assigned to the species to which it belongs.
CSIRO Director of the NBDL, Jenny Giles, said environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis has the potential to create a revolution in biodiversity monitoring.
“Monitoring biodiversity and detecting pests is extremely important, but it’s hard to do and is expensive in a country as large as Australia. eDNA surveys could change that by allowing us to detect animals, plants and other organisms from traces of DNA left behind in the environment, but only if we can reliably assign this DNA to species,” Dr Giles said.
“People may be surprised to realise that there are tiny pieces of DNA shed by animals, plants, and other life forms left in the air, soil, and water around us.
“eDNA surveys are increasingly being used to detect and monitor species, but only a tiny fraction of Australian species have sufficient reference data available to support this approach. This means most eDNA we collect can’t currently be assigned to a species.
“Our National Biodiversity DNA Library aims to provide this missing data through an open access online portal, that will allow Australian state and federal governments, industry, researchers and citizen scientists to take full advantage of this powerful technique to describe and detect changes in our environment,” she said.
Minderoo Foundation is partnering with CSIRO to fund the first part of this DNA reference library, focusing on all species of Australian marine vertebrates, including fishes, whales, dolphins, seals, turtles, sea snakes and inshore sea and aquatic birds.
Minderoo Foundation Director of the OceanOmics program, Steve Burnell, said eDNA approaches will transform how we monitor marine biodiversity and help manage and conserve marine species.
“The NBDL will help our program and other researchers to detect and map marine vertebrate species around Australia, improving the speed, scale and precision at which we can provide information to resource managers,” Dr Burnell said.
“We’re proud to support this powerful conservation tool — the surveillance of marine ecosystems using eDNA provides an exciting and non-invasive means to measure biodiversity and monitor the health of our oceans.”
Dr Giles said the library will be built using unique laboratory techniques developed by CSIRO.
“This technology enables the large-scale generation of DNA reference sequences from preserved specimens of any organism. This miniaturised, high-throughput approach can unlock genetic information from the millions of scientific specimens preserved in Australian research collections,” she said.
CSIRO will work with Bioplatforms Australia — enabled by the Commonwealth Government National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy — and Australian natural history collections to rapidly increase the DNA reference sequences available for Australian marine vertebrates. These data will be generated from expertly identified specimens held in collections including CSIRO’s Australian National Fish Collection and Australian National Wildlife Collection.
The NBDL collaboration between CSIRO, its partners, and our nation’s vast research collections will result in greater understanding of Australia’s animal and plant species and will support industries across fisheries, agriculture, environmental management and tourism.
The library’s first online data release is expected to occur by early 2024.
Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.