DNA analysis is saving our freshwater biodiversity

Freshwater ecosystems and their biodiversity face growing threats. But thanks to cutting-edge R&D, we are witnessing remarkable progress in how we can conserve the life in our lakes and rivers. Scientists at Laboratorios Tecnológicos de Levante in Spain are now cleverly using DNA analysis to assess the health and ecological state of fresh bodies of water.

Biodiversity in peril: A call to action for freshwater ecosystems

It is no secret that freshwater bodies are in danger across the globe; we are standing at a critical juncture for conserving their ecosystems. As a result, the European Union is urgently prioritising innovative solutions that monitor water quality and biodiversity.

Commonly used treatments, such as water management and conservation, need to be continuously assessing freshwater ecosystem health and ecological status to work well. However, these treatments are long and laborious and often fall short of delivering consistent results.

Juan Antonio Villaescusa, a technical specialist at Laboratorios Tecnológicos de Levante, explains, “Two projects arose from the need to improve our ability to identify macroinvertebrates and diatoms, which leads to better monitoring and conservation”. This realisation has seen in a new method for protecting some of our purest natural resources and the species that inhabit them.

DNA tools for freshwater monitoring

Laboratorios Tecnológicos de Levante and project partners set out to fix the many shortcomings associated with traditional methods of monitoring freshwater biodiversity health. Together, the results of two projects are helping environmental agencies and water quality managers make informed decisions about freshwater bodies.

Maria Jose Villena, Head of the Environmental Studies department at Laboratorios Tecnológicos de Levante, explains, “We can now offer valuable services that enhance the accuracy and efficiency of ecological evaluations, biodiversity assessments and biomonitoring in freshwater bodies.”

Laboratorios Tecnológicos de Levante uses DNA analyses to determine the composition of diatom communities in freshwater environments. Think of it as a high-tech detective tool for assessing water quality. They have also developed a genomic tool designed to unravel the mysteries of macroinvertebrates in freshwater systems. Both these methods are more cost effective and accurate than existing solutions.

Living organisms benefit from accurate testing

“DNA-based methods offer higher precision in species identification than traditional methods.” – Villaescusa

What really makes these testing methods stand out is their speed and efficiency. Scientists and environmental agencies can now process larger sample sizes in shorter amounts of time. This breakthrough not only allows researchers to closely monitor and swiftly respond to changes in freshwater ecosystems, but it also provides a holistic understanding of the wide array of organisms within these freshwater habitats. In essence, it is a comprehensive snapshot of the life thriving in our freshwater environments.

Because researchers do not need to identify species manually, this approach requires less labour-intensive work. DNA testing is also less invasive and does not need expert taxonomists.

The Laboratorios Tecnológicos de Levante’s DNA testing innovations pave the way for routine and comprehensive monitoring, contributing to more informed decision-making for managing and preserving freshwater ecosystems.

Flowing into international collaboration

The researchers at Laboratorios Tecnológicos de Levante benefitted from being able to partner with companies, research institutes and universities in Austria, Cyprus, Germany and Portugal; international collaboration broadened the scope for collecting data and freshwater samples. By expanding the range of areas studied, the data became more enriched, which elevates the accuracy and reliability of ecological assessments and identifying species.

“Participating in Eureka projects has brought immense value to our organisation. The collaborative nature of the projects allowed us to access a diverse pool of expertise, resources, and innovative ideas from international partners.” – Villena

Future horizons: pioneering freshwater conservation and DNA innovation

The impact of the projects Laboratorios Tecnológicos de Levante was a part of has captured the interest of a wide variety of stakeholders, from the scientific community and the environmental sector to corporate entities and investors.

The project team remain steadfast in their commitment to advancing their DNA techniques, ensuring the highest quality results in biodiversity, conservation, ecosystem management and water and air quality monitoring.

It is clear that this project holds an exciting potential that ventures beyond what has been achieved so far. In the meantime, it is safe to say that the future of monitoring and conservation of freshwater bodies is in capable hands.

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Posted 26 October 23